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Narrative Medicine

Synergy Magazine Vol. 6, Issue 2 • Mar/Apr 2009  

Review by Mary Ann Moore 

Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process

by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph.D. 

Published by Bear & Company  

Dr. Mehl-Madrona treats each of his patients as a unique individual with a history and a story rather than simply a diagnosis. As well as listening with compassion, he offers a traditional story to help a patient gain insight into their illness and path to wellness. Most of the stories he shares come from North American Native culture as that is Dr. Mehl-Madrona’s heritage. He was born in the Appalachian Mountains of southern Kentucky to a family of mixed Scottish and Cherokee ancestry. He now lives in Saskatoon where he is an associate professor of family medicine and psychiatry. Dr. Mehl-Madrona’s intent is to bridge cultures and “to develop an approach that will allow the patient and his or her family to be active collaborators in the healing process”. A community-based approach is key to his work and a reminder that the story doesn’t end with the lab results. He says depression, for instance, is “a shared phenomenon of a community and must be addressed by the whole community”. “The world’s indigenous medical systems deserve appreciation for their wisdom”, Dr. Mehl-Madrona says. They include North American Native, traditional Chinese medicine, ayurveda from India, and African medicine to name a few. Tools patients may also use include yoga, hypnosis, ceremony, healing circles with family and community, visualization, relaxation and trance induction, vision quests, communing with ancestors, the spirits of the land and with the spirit of the illness. Dr. Mehl-Madrona tries to help people get in touch with their own abilities as shaman-healers as well as engage friends, family, spiritual guides and health care practitioners in a community collaboration.  I enjoyed the many traditional stories Dr. Mehl-Madrona included in the book and how he related them to patients with particular diagnoses including asthma, mental illness, cancer and diabetes. As he writes, “Cancer or any disease or challenge is an invitation to transform.”  Imagine a medicine based on shared stories as a means to understanding and healing, a medicine in which a community collaborates to inspire you to do what you need to do to heal. This book will help you to do just that. And as you’re waiting to read it, let stillness find you. Listen to what your body says, and the spirits of the trees around you. Gather in a small circle and share stories. 

Mary Ann Moore is a writer, poet and creativity facilitator living in Nanaimo.