We often think about how patient stories can advance our goals as healthcare communicators, whether it’s by raising awareness, fighting stigma or discussing treatment, but when’s the last time you thought about what storytelling could do for patients?
Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School Arts and Humanities Initiative recently convened a series of workshops as part of Boston’s HUBweek, “Storytelling and the Future of Medicine,” that examined storytelling as a therapeutic tool. During these workshops Annie Brewster, MD, founder of Health Story Collaborative and Mass General internist, Suzanne Koven, MD, primary care physician and writer-in-residence for the Division of General Internal Medicine at Mass General, and narrative psychologist Jonathan Adler, PhD, shared their perspectives on the healing power of storytelling. This power can be harnessed for many potential benefits: a release from the isolation of illness, a mental health boost from how a story is framed, a reclaimed personal narrative, and much more for patient storytellers and their listeners.
Dr. Brewster shared a few recommendations for how we as communicators can best present patient stories to provide an empowering experience:
• Honor the complexity: Don’t oversimplify – life is messy and stories are more meaningful when that is embraced instead of edited.
• Avoid the sensational: Fight to share the full story when media seek out dramatic soundbites.
• Share the authority: Preserve ownership by giving patients control of how their story is presented to the public.
While this guidance can seem impossible in today’s media environment, it’s worth trying – someone’s health could be impacted.