Does being a good storyteller make you a better clinician?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
A colleague recently wondered why we in psychiatry do not tell enough stories about ourselves and our work. He had just read—and forwarded to me—the book review by Jerome Groopman, MD, in the July 25, 2022 New Yorker, titled “Why Storytelling Is Part of Being a Good Doctor.”1 The review began with Dr Groopman discussing how he came to be a popular writer of moving medical stories about life, death, and uncertainty after being a writer of the usually drier academic articles. The review then focused on the Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Jay Wellons, MD, MSPH, and his mid-career memoir of All That Moves Us. Such emotionally laden stories are what we all tend to remember over facts and figures, as important as those facts and figures may be in their own right.
Dr Groopman, in passing, touched upon many other physician writers. As usual, I noted that none of them were psychiatrists. Isn’t that strange at first glance? Here we can be in our close interpersonal relationships with patients who often share the gory and glory of their lives. Certainly, this was not the case in the time of Freud and his colleagues. Irving Yalom, MD, in our time has been one of the notable rare exceptions. With a similar academic background as Dr Groopman, I eventually tried to use the story conceit of a mock company when I was asked to write a book about the emotionally laden challenge of ethics in managed care.2
Is our current reluctance to tell our stories the result of ethical confidentiality concerns? That should not be the case since we can disguise identity. Is it in part the spin-off influence of our Goldwater Rule against commenting on public figures and their public stories? We do not even seem to appear on the major media medical discussions of psychiatric topics. Is it because we have become more of a 15-minute med check provider devoid of interesting stories?
Last year, I wrote the Forward to the beautiful book, STORY story, with text by William Cleveland and artwork by Barry Marcus. It conveys a primal story with primal images. I now wonder: What is the primal story of psychiatry? Maybe you would like to share what you think that is.
To paraphrase Dr Seuss: Oh, the mental places we’ve gone! I am sure many of you have all kinds of psychiatric stories, short or long, to tell, too.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.
1. Groopman J. Why storytelling is part of being a good doctor. The New Yorker. July 18, 2022. Accessed August 1, 2022. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/07/25/why-storytelling-is-part-of-being-a-good-doctor-all-that-moves-us-jay-wellons
2. Moffic HS. The Ethical Way: Challenges & Solutions for Managed Behavioral Healthcare. Jossey-Bass; 1997.