narrative applications

Storytelling and therapy are first cousins. People in many places of the world do not tell stories just for fun, but in order to heal. The storyteller will choose a story carefully, so that it speaks to the heart of other humans. In the context of narrative psychotherapy, a client may derive meaning from recounting/ telling incidents of the past in order to explore them and process alternative narratives. Still, other therapeutic arts – like medicine for instance – may also gain from the narrative practice.

Doctor Rita Charon is the director of a narrative medicine programme in Columbia University. She came up with the term “narrative medicine” based on an article she wrote in 2001 for the The Annals of Internal Medicine, having listened to the stories of her patients for years. She was so certain that the role of storytelling and listening are important, that she spend time to study literature and creative writing in the context of her PhD. Her impact on the medical school of Columbia University was such, that since the second year of their studies, students are now obliged to attend narrative medicine seminars. Charon writes: “I am not just listening to the content of the narrative, but also its form – the temporary routes it follows, its reenactments, secondary plots, silences, from which point the story begins, what is the sequence of symptoms and their relationship to other life incidents… After some minutes he stops talking and begins to cry. I ask him why he cries. He says: ‘nobody ever allowed to me talk like this’.”