Why use storytelling in palliative care?

Categories: Education.

In May 2015, the University of Northampton was invited to evaluate Sharing Stories for Wellbeing – a programme enabling people to share their life stories in a group workshop, while a facilitator captures these stories in written form for the participants to keep and share.

The process of engaging in a storytelling workshop enables a dual process of both telling your own story and of listening to other people’s.

Within palliative care, storytelling can support people come to terms with a life-changing diagnosis, offering a process of evaluation and reflection (1) and can have some therapeutic value through improved wellbeing, dignity, quality of life, reduced depression, improved/preserved self-identity and a way of connecting with others (1-4).

These reported benefits of storytelling have been reflected informally through the work of Sharing Stories for Wellbeing; we explored them further and co-presented our findings at Hospice UK’s 2015 conference, alongside programme founder Miranda Quinney and social work consultant Doreen Pattenson.

Our evaluation was based on a five-week programme held at Peace Hospice Care from May to June 2015, with five participants attending (three completed the sessions and one person attended all five sessions).

A mixed method approach was adopted for this evaluation; using a patient pre and post questionnaires, face-to-face interviews with patients, hospice staff and family (n=7) and participant observations (n=2).

The evaluation aimed to understand the impact of taking part in the workshops for participants, family members and staff.

We found the workshops created a friendly, relaxed social space for participants to engage in storytelling. Four broad themes emerged from the evaluation: that of pleasure, what makes you you, more than just a patient and benefits beyond the group.

These themes led to a sense of positive wellbeing for those who took part and participants not only enjoyed the sessions but found value in attending.

Participants were given a sense of autonomy and control in what they shared with the group and found the sessions provided a social occasion where they could share similar interests and enjoy a sense of togetherness.

“…the first time we were talking about cooking and, before I was ill, I made cakes for everybody so I said ‘right I’ll bring in one of my best Victoria sandwiches next week’ so we all sat round and had cake.” (participant)

The sessions also provided a way to explore self-identity and to be valued as a person and not just as a patient.

“…you think about things that you haven’t thought about in a long time and that gives you some pleasure and as you say you can pass them onto future generations of the family.” (participant)

Furthermore, the telling of their stories and being able to reminisce about their lives brought reminders of changing times and of lived experiences which were respected and shared with others.

“You sit and think about it a while and you think ‘at least I did something with my life’.” (participant)

Taking part in the workshops also led participants to explore new activities, with some experiencing improved confidence and reduced social isolation.

Sharing Stories for Wellbeing has now developed training to support other health professionals and storytellers to deliver their own biographical storytelling workshops and will be working with Hospice UK and the National Council for Palliative Care to deliver these.

For further information about the workshops, go to the Hospice UK website or contact Miranda Quinney.

The executive summary of the evaluation by the University of Northampton can be downloaded from the Sharing Stories for Wellbeing website.


  1. Romanoff BD, Thompson BE. Meaning construction in palliative care: the use of narrative, ritual, and the expressive arts. American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care. 2006 Aug-Sep; 23(4):309-316.
  2. Heggestad AK, Slettebø A. How individuals with dementia in nursing homes maintain their dignity through life storytelling – a case study. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2015 Aug; 24:2323-2330.
  3. Heiney SP, Darr-Hope H, Meriwether MP, Adams SA. Healing by creating: patient evaluations of art-making program. Journal of Creative Behaviour. 2015 doi: 10.1002/jocb.84
  4. Synnes O. Narratives of nostalgia in the face of death: The importance of lighter stories of the past in palliative care. Journal of Aging Studies. 2015 Aug;34:169-176.

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