Narrative medicine in psychiatry?
Narrative Medicine: Many medical schools and residency programs train physicians to treat medical issues merely as problems to be solved, without taking into account the specific psychological and personal history of each patient. Sick people need physicians who understand their disease and treat their medical problem as well as accompany them through their illness. They need support and hope. Nobody can live without hope.
Narrative medicine encourages empathy and promotes understanding between clinician and patient. It can be intrinsically therapeutic and/or palliative and encourages reflection. It might even challenge accepted norms.
Physicians have been trained to believe that objectivity makes them more effective in their efforts to resolve both the problems as well as the pain brought to them by their patients, and they believe that keeping a mental distance from them is what protects them from becoming wounded during their contact with difficult cases, especially where terminal illnesses are concerned.
Our son battled his demons and tried to get better during a period of 16 years while doing all he could to beat paranoid schizophrenia and through it all, he took the pills prescribed for him. During this long period of time, we came across all kinds of physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists, most of whom practiced keeping their distance far too well. I remember challenging a psychiatrist on this point and suggested that maybe he should stop worrying so much about keeping his patient at bay. He insisted that it was the only way he could manage to sleep at night. But what about our son? Where did his illness and feelings come into the picture? After 16 years, we realized that the only help psychiatrists could give when David was stressed out and aggressive had little to do with medical science or psychiatry. They provided straight-jackets, gave him a shot or told us to call the police. Is that psychiatry? We don’t think so.
Three months before his 34th birthday, our David finally came to the conclusion that sparring with his demons would never allow him the peace of mind that he craved, so, he went to what we can only hope is a place of calm, peace and endless prayer fit for the surfer that he was.
My suggestion is as follows: I would like to suggest that people suffering from a mental illness who are ‘in remission’ (for want of a better word) or ‘no psychotic,’ and able to talk about their experiences, as well as some of their parents, be invited to a conference under the heading of ‘Narrative Medicine in the Field of Psychiatry.’ This might throw some light on a very dark subject. My book, David’s Story by Jill Sadowsky shows how important this point can be, by its very omission throughout our experiences with the psychiatric establishment.