Narrative medicine gives new meaning to the concept of “bedside manner.”  A doctor or healthcare professional trained in narrative medicine connects more personally with a patient, shares more deeply in their health journey and validates their experience by active listening and relating to the patient and other doctors.

This emerging field of narrative medicine takes a broader, more holistic view of healthcare, beyond diagnosis and statistical outcomes, one that places high value on each patient’s individual story (narrative), beliefs, and experiences. It allows both patients and caregivers to voice their experience, and be heard and valued. Narrative training helps increase empathy, sensitivity, and reflection in healthcare professionals. Also, sharing stories between colleagues helps doctors strengthen their understanding of their practice.
For patients, illness can render them exposed, and feeling very isolated.  Having a doctor listen attentively to their story with empathy, or read it with sensitivity, bears witness to their suffering, strengthens the bond between doctor and patient, and can be powerfully validating.

Rita Charon, M.D., Ph.D. is Professor of Clinical Medicine and Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at the Columbia University College ofPhysicians and Surgeons. A leader in the field and author of Narrative Medicine:  Honoring the Stories of Illness, Dr. Charon understands how vital listening to and telling stories is to patients and doctors, and to the overall care and healing process. According to Dr. Charon, “Narrative Medicine is clinical practice fortified by the knowledge of what to do with stories.” Listen to Dr. Rita Charon’s Ted talk.


One could say that our Digging Deep journal is a form of narrative medicine: it gives kids and teens a way to tell their story, and to be proactive in their emotional health by connecting with others.  Answering the journal’s writing prompts helps young patients connect with their family, friends, and healthcare providers, and feel less isolated on their healthcare journey. By telling their own stories and having them listened to or read by others, kids and teens facing serious illness find hope through connection, understanding, and validation of their emotions.

For more information, go to: Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine Program Leadership

Read Sheri Brisson’s October 8, 2014 blog Personal Narrative-Healing Young Hearts

Sheri Brisson
Sheri Sobrato Brisson is a brain tumor survivor who discovered the importance of self-reflection during her recovery. From her personal illness experience and a dozen years supporting families and children with serious illness, her life’s philanthropic mission is to empower families and children facing serious illness. She has started and facilitated support groups for children with illness and their families for over twenty years with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and Packard Children’s Hospital. She has served as Board Member for many children’s health nonprofit organizations including American Cancer Society San Jose, UCSF/Mt. Zion Auxiliary, Creighton Health Institute, and Okizu Foundation. Brisson received her master’s degree in counseling from Santa Clara University and her undergraduate degree in human biology from Stanford University.

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