To improve healthcare workers' job satisfaction and patient care, several physicians and aligned professionals are learning about and using narrative practices. For example, take a look at this article about two people in North Carolina who are teaching courses in Narrative Medicine. From "Stories heal at narrative medicine workshop" (Mountain Xpress):
“Not all patients are storytellers, but every patient has a story to tell,” says Dr. [Claire] Hicks, who believes that narrative medicine helps train us to listen, to empathize and to heal. During the workshop, Dr. Hicks shared insights from a physician’s perspective in her work with HIV patients in hospice and how writing enriches her capacity as caregiver. . . .
. . .
The importance of story is the driving force behind narrative medicine. “Ways to read story are ways to read life,” says [Professor Laura] Hope-Gill.
I have been convinced of the value of narrative practices for a long time, particularly as they increase the ability to be reflective. Therefore, I was excited when I read a message from Professor Anne Villella on a legal education listserv in response to my asking her what she meant by "narrative practices." (One of the courses she offers at Lewis and Clark Law School is on narrative practices). Here is what she wrote (posted with permission):
The idea of narrative practices that I mentioned in my post include many of those found in Narrative Medicine, which you mention. I have attended a 4-day Narrative Medicine workshop and read much of the scholarship on Narrative Medicine. Its impact on those in the healthcare field have been remarkable in terms of developing professional identity, compassion, a sense of affiliation, and, ultimately, patient care.
I believe similar practices can have similar results in the practice of law and representation of clients. And, I know that there are others out there who have incorporated narrative practices into their courses.(I would love to hear from others who have done this!)
Besides Narrative Medicine, there are other resources out there about narrative practices. The work of Gillie Bolton comes to mind--she facilitates workshops and has written extensively on
reflective and reflexive practices and writing for a wide range of professions. In education, we often use the term meta-cognition as encompassing some of these practices.
Briefly, the narrative practices I'm talking about focus on gaining insight to what occurred in a situation by re examining the situation (who was involved, what occurred, why did it occur, how did we feel, what are our values around what occurred, how might others have perceived the situation). This is done through reflection (examining the "story," through writing and telling), and then allowing others to attentively listen to what we have reflected upon and ask us open questions or note observations about what they heard us say.
In addition, with respect to larger social issues, as opposed to a particular situation, narrative practices include questioning our attitudes, values, and responses, and how they effect others, including social structures, our profession, and institutions. This may include, for example, looking at how our own reactions might tend to perpetuate injustice or marginalize groups of people. I think Bolton refers to this as reflexivity.
Studies show that these practices help develop professional identity and help us shape how we behave and respond to others. In the process of engaging these narrative practices, we develop listening skills and compassion---to be attentive to others by listening to their stories for understanding, rather than judging or fixing. And we learn about our emotional triggers or responses. Learning about these triggers and responses allows us to re-write our internal narratives so that we might engage differently in the future.
Since last December when Professor Villella posted this message, I have been in contact with her. She, a colleague Hartley Goldstone,and I are exploring the possibility of the three of us teaching a seminar on narrative practices for lawyers and other conflict professionals. Of course, if we go forward, one of the places I will announce the program will be here on this blog. Stay tuned.
- (added February 16, 2014): Click to read an interview of Dr. Sayantani DasGupta talking about narrative humility. It includes a link to her TED talk on the topic. Click to read her article "Narrative humility" (The Lancet).
- (added February 16, 2014): Here's a chapter on Narrative Medicine (from the book Integrating Narrative Medicine and Evidence Based Medicine) which includes a description of Balint Groups. Click to read two articles on Balint Groups (The Permanente Journal), the second of which compares them to Narrative Medicine.