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How Storytelling Is Changing the Way Doctors Treat Illness

December 31, 2012

Tags: narrative medicine, illness and healing, power of storytelling

"Sayantani DasGupta, MD, who teaches narrative medicine at Columbia University, says the key to sharing your health history is thinking of it as a story," wrote Abigail Rasminsky in the How Storytelling Is Changing The Way Doctors Treat Illness (Oprah magazine, July 2012)

"Choose the turning points that you want to highlight—the ups and downs you've experienced over time," says DasGupta, a pediatrician who teaches narrative medicine at Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College. "Who are the main characters? A supportive partner? An unsupportive boss? Mention the dramatic tensions. You might be concerned about meeting work deadlines, or caring for a sick parent. These details will help your doctor treat your illness in the context of your life. Finally, spill your fears. Maybe your mother died of a brain tumor and you're afraid you will, too. Your worries offer insight into your hesitancies and motivations."

Abby (my goddaughter) relates how Dr. Rita Charon, in the early '80s, stumbled on storytelling as a way to restore the human elements to medicine and became the founding director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. The idea is that young future medical practitioners read literature to develop the ability to empathize with and understand the world of their patients--and hence practice better medicine.

To learn more:
Stories Are Good Medicine (Sayantani Dasgupta's blog: "Read two novels and call me in the morning". I particularly liked this entry: The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things: Body Acceptance in YA Literature
Sayantani Dasgupta's website
Stories of Illness and Healing: Women Write Their Bodies edited by Sayantani DasGupta and Marsha Hurst
Narrative Medicine and Medical Narrative on my website Dying, Surviving, and Aging with Grace
and above all, read Abby's story in Oprah:
How Storytelling Is Changing The Way Doctors Treat Illness (by Abigail Rasminsky , Oprah Magazine, July 2012) .