‘Listening with our pens’

One of my virtual mentors in the field of narrative medicine is Sayantani DasGupta. I’ve never met her, but her work has shaped my thinking about the critical role of narrative in healthcare.

DasGupta is interested in the role of stories in healthcare and spends much of her time as a professor of medical humanities teaching clinicians-to-be how to listen. Here are some resources where you can find more of her writing and reflections:

Her blog Stories are Good Medicine:

What I do is teach my students to listen by writing stories. I have them do listener response – writing in reaction to a poem or story we read in class…So yes, I’m training people to be better doctors by teaching them how to be writers.

The TED talk Narrative Humility highlights her philosophy of listening  — how stories can be “little boats that help us navigate the treacherous waters of illness.” Emphasizing that illness and healthcare is fundamentally a storied process, she is interested in how we learn to attend respectfully to the stories of others by paying attention to our own assumptions and “inner workings.”

‘Narrative humility’,  a close cousin to cultural humility, calls for a new kind of relational space where we are called upon to respect “that which we do not know.” She asks challenging, but necessary, questions about the culture of hierarchy in healthcare and the dangers of teaching communication skills through reductionist strategies – what she aptly calls “faking our humanity.”

Her essay, The Kingdom of the Sick: narrative medicine helps caregivers and patients find meaning in illness, addresses the issue of how we “train to listen.” She writes about teaching as a form of witnessing, as teachers and students walk a “narrative pilgrimage” together to explore stories of illness and disability.

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