Narrative Medicine fortifies clinical practice with the narrative competence to recognize, absorb, metabolize, interpret, and be moved by the stories of illness. Through narrative training, the Program in Narrative Medicine helps physicians, nurses, social workers, mental health professionals, chaplains, social workers, academics, and all those interested in the intersection between narrative and medicine improve the effectiveness of care by developing these skills with patients and colleagues. Our research and outreach missions are conceptualizing, evaluating, and spear-heading these ideas and practices nationally and internationally.
The History of Narrative Medicine
Many persons engaged in health care, either as patients or providers, are hungry to give and receive care. Attentive listening, creative contact, singular accuracy, and personal fidelity have gone missing from the routines of our practices. Among the many responses to the failures of our current health care system is Narrative Medicine. Developed at Columbia University in 2000, Narrative Medicine fortifies clinical practice with the ability to recognize, absorb, interpret, and be moved by stories of illness. We realize that the care of the sick unfolds in stories, and we recognize that the central event of health care is for a patient to give an account of self and a clinician to skillfully receive it.
The clinical routines and the teaching methods of Narrative Medicine, our experience and research show, can transform practice and training. Time-tested teaching approaches can help participants who seek to convey to their learners the skills of empathic interviewing, reflective practice, narrative ethics, self-awareness, and creating and sustaining healing intersubjective contact with patients and colleagues.
The Practice of Narrative Medicine
One way to practice narrative medicine is in the form of workshops. Workshops are led by a trained facilitator, and can last from a half hour to an hour and a half. Groups can be as small as 3 participants or as large as an auditorium, although the ideal number is around 8 participants. While narrative medicine was born in healthcare, workshops can successfully be conducted with non-healthcare personnel.
There are 3 components to each workshop: close reading, writing, and reflecting. First, the group explores a piece of art that the facilitator has selected for the group–this can be a poem, prose piece, painting, photograph, comic, or song. Participants closely explore the work of art, observing and commenting on specific detail using the reading guide. Then, participants write for 5 minutes to a prompt in the shadow of the art they just explored. Participants read their writing aloud to the group, and the group reflects on it and explores it using the same principles described in the reading guide.
In addition to facilitating the development of close attention skills, which are directly transferable to clinical practice, workshops provide a clearing where participants can pause and reflect on their lives and their work.
The Teaching of Narrative Medicine
To become a trained facilitator of Narrative Medicine, an individual can complete our Master’s program. The program can be completed part-time over multiple years or full-time in one year. It provides intense training in the theoretical underpinnings and practical applications of narrative medicine.
To receive an introduction to Narrative Medicine, an individual can attend one of our weekend workshops, which provide an intensive introductory immersion in the methods and skills of narrative medicine.
As a bridge between our Master’s program and weekend workshops, we have designed a low-residency certification program, which is designed specifically for clinicians and narrativists who seek ways to bring narrative methods into their clinical or teaching practices. Click here for more information.
To learn more about the background of narrative medicine, you may be interested in the following articles:
- Narrative Medicine: A Model for Empathy, Reflection, Profession, and Trust – JAMA | Read now >>
- Narrative Medicine: Form, Function, and Ethics – Annals of Internal Medicine | Read now >>
- Narrative Medicine: Attention, Representation, Affiliation – Project Muse | Read now >>
- Honoring the Stories of Illness – Dr. Rita Charon at TEDx Atlanta | Watch below:
For the full bibliography, click here >>