Narrative Medicine

Cultivating, Nurturing, and Caring for Families with Narrative Medicine

The ABLE Team and other health professionals live from the stories of our healing work.  Historically, workers in the health field have been well instructed in the narrative medicine practices of the past.  There is value in the knowledge brought forth from narrative medicine of the past as a means to reestablish the means of using stories to bring symbolic healing and meaning to each person’s experience of both illness and health.

Centuries ago, Hippocrates, considered the father of medicine, suggested that by means of mental, emotional, and symbolic communication the patient/physician connection could lead to improved outcomes.  Symbolic healing included both an explanatory component operating through the caring and compassion of caregivers, as well as mastery and control of the healing process.  People get better when they feel understood and when they have explanations of what has and is happening to them.   This process occurs most readily when within the safety of quality care and expressed concern, for in this way individuals can feel as though they have achieved a sense of control over their own stories of pain and suffering.

Stories help in describing a person’s (or a family’s) support network.  They offer an alternative perspective usually leading to a greater perception of individual or group empowerment.  It is the nature of people to seek restoration of events in such a way as to offer coherence (making sense) and movement towards greater management of the consequences of illness.  To help facilitate the process, the physician and patient need to know each other so as to interpret the story of the illness together and solve its mystery.  Narrative medicine seeks to have the care provider understand the patient’s story by listening and hearing it in an uninterrupted and open way and by best using the language matching the patient’s beliefs.  The power of the illness experience and its meanings (story) is jointly shared encounter inviting the patient to be an active participant in the healing process.

The health provider, using an in-depth query, is in a better position to   relieve the suffering and help patients heal themselves.  Such a quest must include inquiry about bodily processes in context and symptoms through the vehicle of the patient’s story.  "My story is broken, can you help me fix it?" It is through this patient request the provider is able to explore and follow the time course of suffering as well as emerging signs of contentment.  The story also elicits details of symptoms and positive expressions, causes and contingencies, all through the inter-subjective process, (back and forth) all of which makes medicine using such practices, a narrative process.


Brody, H., “My Story is Broken; Can You Help Me Fix It?” Literature and Medicine 13, no 1 (Spring 1994) 79-92.

Charon, R., Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness, Oxford, University Press, 2006.