Doctors who practice narrative medicine do so with the skill to recognize, absorb, interpret and be moved by stories pertaining to illness. To practice narrative medicine, be it in internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, surgery or psychiatry, a physician has to develop the sophisticated skills to read a patient’s body language and attend to what they are saying, particularly psychiatric patients.
If medicine is practiced with these skills, the clinician or trainee has much to offer his/her patient. By listening with attention, he/she can hear and receive in full complexity what the patient is conveying in words, silences, gestures, body positions as well as physical findings.
As a result, this clinician, by using narrative competence, becomes a witness instead of a judge, a companion instead of an interrogator, an ally instead of a bearer of bad news or the inflictor of discomfort only. This gives the doctor sufficient knowledge to develop a clinically helpful and useful affiliation with the person he is treating.
In my humble opinion, narrative medicine is meant to treat the whole person and not only the illness. If doctors and psychiatrists are able to brush up on their listening skills, life will be a lot easier for their patients.