Narrative Healthcare

Here are the roots of Narrative Healthcare, woven now into this website by a team of doctors, physician assistants, social workers, pastors, poets, caregivers, and facilitators.

Narrative Healthcare draws together the fields where medicine and humanities touch: Narrative Medicine, Medical Humanities, Expressive Writing, and Poetic Medicine. Serving physicians, medical students, counselors, social workers, nurses, and all who come into contact with sickness and wellness, Narrative Healthcare provides training in listening, reflecting, and writing-to-heal, while providing evidence-based training in applying narrative practice.

Appreciative Inquiry and Critical Thought draw increasingly closer together, like the two hemispheres of the brain becoming whole. The zeitgeist of transformation moves so swiftly that it almost seems a new medical benefit of creativity surfaces every day. New results appear citing the effects of creative, expressive, and reflective writing on healing. Results range from narrative practice’s increasing empathy scores over time (Chen et al 2012) to reduced symptoms of myocardial infarction (Willmott et al 2011). Narrative Healthcare speaks to identifying the waymarkers for this ongoing current of change.

Lenoir-Rhyne University Narrative Healthcare Certificate Program

Narrative Medicine: Narrative Medicine applies Narrative Theory to the context of the clinical care. A protocol for intervention in the loss of empathy experienced during medical training Narrative Medicine employs close reading, reflective writing, and witnessing to develop our ability to attend to, interpret, metabolize and be moved by patient stories. The Narrative Medicine modules of this program are grounded the work and teachings of Dr. Rita Charon and her team at the Narrative Medicine Program at Columbia University Program for Physicians and Surgeons.

Expressive Writing: Expressive Writing invites patients, providers, and caregivers to apply various modes of writing to healing. Supported by facilitators, individuals develop meaning from trauma and stress. Students of Expressive Writing discover data supporting writing’s ability to reduce anxiety and increase resilience. The Narrative Heatlhcare Program works closely with John Evans, co-author with James Pennebaker, of Transform Your Health: Writing to Heal, and facilitator for Duke Integrative Medicine workshops on Expressive Writing.

Poetic Medicine: Based in the work of John Fox of the Institute for Poetic Medicine, explorations in Poetic Medicine include study of metaphor as transformative agents in healing. Students write and read poems of witness and experience while learning about Poetic Medicine programs.

Arts in Medicine: Arts in Medicine programs such as that at Shands Hospital at University of Florida integrate arts into healthcare. Murals on hospital walls, guitarists strumming Bach at bedside, creative writing sessions, dance despite disability all enrich patient experience of illness and help them discover personal paths to healing beyond diagnosis. Students are encouraged to envision and create programs.

Medical Humanities: Medical Humanities Programs have co-existed with medical education for decades. Their purpose is to encourage providers to see the whole human when treating pathologies. As with Narrative Medicine, students view films and paintings and read stories. Such works address illness and healing, the interior experience of healthcare.


Additional Examples and Applications:

More than a Medical Record: Storytelling Helps Fill the Gaps Between Patients and Hospital Staff

How Writing Fiction Can Free Physicians

Can You Mend a Broken Heart Through the Arts?

The effects of expressive writing following first myocardial infarction: A randomized controlled trial.

Doctors in Scotland Being Given Books of Poetry to Help them Cope with Stress


Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative Narrative Healthcare Certificate and MFA

The Certificate in Narrative Healthcare at Lenoir-Rhyne University is housed within the M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Students at the Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative in Asheville create work always in small groups defined by mutual respect and supportive listening. They engage one another’s work from a perspective of deep inquiry, searching together for what a work wants to be and presents in its draft form. Course participants are readers first rather than critics. Once colleagues have collaboratively explored a classmate’s draft, they entertain questions and possibilities, drawing on what is already on the page rather than venturing into remote hypotheticals. This way, the learning community keeps respect for the draft and for its author and recognizes how it operates as a unique entity in the world, with its own story.

To support this process, students develop strong close-reading skills through regular and rigorous community practice. While themes drive story, techniques deliver their power to the reader. Through coursework in genre evolution and workshop, students develop material for a final portfolio. Students have created novels, memoirs, collections of poetry, and screenplays. They have multiple opportunities through their tenure in the program to develop this project, accruing skill and content in every class and participating in revision sessions either independently or with a group.


Willmott, L., Harris, P., Gellaitry, G., Cooper, V., & Horne, R. (2011). The effects of expressive writing following first myocardial infarction: A randomized controlled trial. Health Psychology, 30(5), 642-650.

Chen PJ, Huang CD, Yeh SJ. Impact of a narrative medicine programme on healthcare providers’ empathy scores over time. BMC Med Educ. 2017;17(1):108. Published 2017 Jul 5. doi:10.1186/s12909-017-0952-x