Narrative Medicine Heals Bodies and Souls

Want to heal? Tell your story.

| September-October, 2009

  • Narraitive Medicine Healing

    image by Stuart Bradford /

  • Narraitive Medicine Healing

The year is 1973, the setting Stanford University School of Medicine. “Life is a relentless progression toward death, disease, and decay,” asserts a professor. “The physician’s job is to slow the rate of decline.” A student takes issue.

Perceiving a need for a parallel path to biomedicine, the young man finds a Cherokee healer with whom to study. He continues learning from indigenous elders as he makes his way through Stanford, the Psychological Studies Institute in Palo Alto, and Massey University in New Zealand. Today, Lewis Mehl-Madrona is a champion of narrative medicine, which asserts the importance of an individual’s whole life story to the person’s health—not just the medical history, but a story that includes ancestors and friends, interests and spiritual orientation.

As a doctor, Mehl-Madrona helps patients discover their own stories of illness and create ones of healing that pull them forward toward recovery. These stories help create hope and a path to wellness—features often lacking in the “story” that patients get from mainstream medicine based on statistics and life ­expectancy tables.

Mehl-Madrona’s efforts to bring narrative medicine into mainstream practice seem to be making headway. This fall, Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons began offering a master’s degree in narrative medicine. Mehl-Madrona is currently an associate professor of psychology at Argosy University in Hawaii.


What do you mean by “narrative medicine”?

Kevin M. Mahoney
9/6/2009 1:20:20 PM

I really enjoyed the article. I have seen effective healing through narrative and story telling during my association with Alcoholics Anonymouns (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). I would have to agree that verbal articulation of a particular condition through narrative medicine would help a patient to better focus on their situation. The communal piece, the gathering of other portions of the narrative also seem to be a logical extension of this process.

Susan Sholtes
8/31/2009 4:09:45 PM

Enjoyed your article. You might be interested in my documentary that was informed by narrative therapy, following the stories of 5 people living with serious chronic illness...the choices and paths that they chose. All told through their voices (as the experts) It's called "It's About Living" you can view an excerpt at Regards, Susan Sholtes

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