The power of stories and storytelling when facing illness

Categories: Care.

Next month a group of medical and wellbeing practitioners will gather in Budapest to share their experiences of how storytelling can assist when facing the issues raised by illness.

I am delighted to have been invited there to present Sharing Stories for Wellbeing, opening the floor to discussion on the outcomes and techniques used with patients as part of their end of life care.

But what I’m really excited about it is the opportunity to listen to how others have been using storytelling techniques in medicine:

Joanna Davidson simply askes “can storytelling save lives?” while Esther Chow and Irene Ip will be considering the “voices of stroke survivors in reconstructing their identities.” The list goes on – there are a large number of sessions planned for the two-day conference.

So what it is about stories? I found that the opening statement in the conference call to papers summed it up beautifully:

“Telling stories helps us wrestle with and make sense of the things which happen in our lives. When illness or disease emerge and disrupt our everyday lives, stories play a key role by which we attempt to create meaning in relation to what is happening to us.

“They also invite others to share and engage in the way we see ourselves during such times, create spaces for sympathy, empathy and compassion and encourage people to share in the process of making sense of health, illness and disease with us.

“When it comes to medicine and clinical practice, the stories people tell become the first point of contact between sufferer and doctor and beyond that, between patient, doctor, consultant and even surgeon.”

Storytelling is a truly inclusive art form – as humans we are naturally drawn to tell and listen to stories.

Over the years perhaps we have found less time to practice this art, but we all know how powerful a good story can be. Indeed many corporates now insist that their top executives learn to use storytelling as a key presentation technique – the message just seems to hit home so much more quickly when it’s presented as part of a well crafted tale.

So, perhaps it is no surprise that there seems to have been a revival of interest in storytelling. This week (30 January to 6 February) is National Storytelling Week, and there is a range of activities taking place across the county. Visit the official website to find out more about the week and details of planned events.

Miranda Quinney is a professional storyteller and founder of Sharing Stories for Wellbeing. Miranda is also working with Hospice UK and the National Council for Palliative Care to hold a number of workshops on biographical story sharing for wellbeing in end of life care. Further information about these workshops is available on Hospice UK’s website.

For more information about the Global Health Conference: Storytelling, Illness and Medicine visit Inter-Disciplinary.Net

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