What is narrative medicine? Our expert explains.

A senior man talks with a young man.
Robert Slocum, PhD
Robert Slocum, PhD

Written by Robert Slocum, PhD, the narrative medicine facilitator at UK HealthCare.

At the UK Integrative Medicine & Health program, our goal is to combine traditional medical therapies with other health and wellness practices to help patients achieve optimal health and healing.

When a patient is diagnosed with an illness or disease, the focus is often on treatment and healing the body. Unfortunately, as patients confront the anxieties of being sick, their mental health can decline, too.

One practice we use at UK HealthCare to help promote mental strength and well-being is called narrative medicine.

What is narrative medicine and how does it help?

Narrative medicine invites patients to share stories of their life and treatment through guided conversations and personal writing.

As patients share their unique experiences, a narrative medicine facilitator will help to tease out important details and insights that patients can use to cope with their diagnosis and recover mentally.

Narrative medicine helps patients understand their illness and healthcare journey in the context of their entire life story. Patients often gain new perspectives on their illness and treatment by putting their experiences into words.

Narrating these experiences may also help them discover connections between the journey of treatment and their own beliefs.

Patients often come away from narrative work with a clearer sense of personal meaning and direction.

What happens during a narrative medicine session?

Narrative medicine sessions usually take place in a patient’s hospital room or at a treatment or infusion center.

During the session, the narrative medicine facilitator will ask a few simple questions to learn more about the patient’s story and will help direct the conversation. Patients are always welcome to focus on a particular concern, issue or memory.

Although the direction of each conversation varies greatly from patient to patient, I try to ask three questions every time:

  • “What is your source of hope?”
  • “Where do you get your strength?”
  • “What gives you the courage to face the future?”

How does narrative medicine help patients’ families?

Facing illness and treatment can be a challenging journey for patients and their loved ones.

Through the narrative medicine process, patients may be better able to share the story of their treatment journey with family, friends and care providers, leading to a feeling of greater support from those who are most important in their life.

Are there medical benefits to narrative medicine?

Absolutely. Narrative medicine has been shown to:

  • Help release emotional and physical pain and encourage overall well-being.
  • Offer nonpharmacological pain management.
  • Encourage the trust and rapport between the patient and their treatment team, improving communication and promoting patient cooperation and outcomes.

UK HealthCare’s narrative medicine practice

Narrative medicine sessions are available for UK HealthCare patients and their families.

While we primarily work with cancer patients at the UK Markey Cancer Center, we also work with other specialties at UK HealthCare including heart care patients and those in the Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

For more information about narrative medicine or to schedule an appointment for a narrative medicine session, contact me at 859-324-0955 or robert.slocum@uky.edu.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

Topics in this Story

    Integrative Medicine