The evolution of an evidence-based approach to mental health treatment has evolved as an attempt to help mental health practitioners provide quality and comprehensive care for their patients.
However, as this approach becomes increasingly more prevalent among providers, the patients’ own personal anecdotes are often seen as unreliable.
Instead, the practitioner may view himself as the authority on the patient’s mental health and disregard her own personal account of her illness.
Unfortunately, this approach neglects a significant component of treatment. Storytelling in treatment allows the patient the ability to move through the inner hurt that often accompanies mental illness; stripping her of this opportunity dehumanizes the patient and may even impede her recovery.
Dimensions to Promote Recovery
A strong sense of community is one of the four dimensions necessary to promote recovery from mental illness, substance abuse and other behavioral health challenges. (Samhsa.gov) In fact, community support is so crucial to the well-being of the mentally ill that legislation was passed in the United States and Canada to make federally funded, community-based support systems widely available to those who need services.
Psychological, psychiatric, legal, socia, and financial support is provided to help facilitate recovery. However, as these essential supports are provided, the patient’s own voice should not be lost in the process. Rather, recounting her personal experience should be incorporated as an integral part of the healing process.
Using personal anecdotes during treatment has been shown to promote healing. For example, in treating adult cases of PTSD, allowing the person to tell his story allows him to achieve cognitive distance between himself and the traumatic experience.
When a person is able to detach himself from the experience, he is often able to heal and recover quicker. In addition, as the patient tells his story, the practitioner is able to help him rework concepts and skills into his cognitive framework to facilitate more mental stability and better overall functioning. (Researchgate.net)
Interestingly, this benefit is not just is seen in mental health but is experienced globally within the health field.
Research has shown that allowing patients to share their stressful experiences resulted in physiological improvements such as increased lung performance in patients with asthma and a decrease in disease activity in patients with arthritis.
Implementing storytelling in treatment can be very useful in helping adolescents who are recovering from PTSD. I previously worked with a young girl who had been sexually assaulted multiple times within a three month timeframe.
She was distrustful of mental health providers and therefore struggled with participating in treatment, which ultimately impeded her recovery.
However, one day she started to tell me her story, in her own words, in her own way. Her story was comprised of tears, pain, anger and resentment, yet when this brave and amazing girl finished, there seemed to be a significant transition.
She quickly began to embrace the other aspects of her treatment and became more receptive to medication and cognitive restructuring. She seemed more empowered and became more focused on healing. The impact of allowing her to tell her own story, in her own way, opened the door to profound healing.
The healing effects of narratives can be achieved in both verbal and written formats. (NCBI.nlm.nih.gov) Research has found that openly sharing one’s story verbally has a cathartic or purging effect that alleviates psychological distress. Similarly, writing about traumatic experiences and illnesses often helps to decrease symptoms.
This leads one to realize the significance of journaling as a person progresses through the healing process. Interestingly, storytelling is such a profound healing agent that one can experience healing by not only telling her own story but also by listening to the stories of others. (NCBI.nlm.nih.gov)
This practice gives further support to the importance of community and social connectedness in the healing process.
Anecdotal treatment is important in helping individuals move through mental and behavioral struggles, however, it is equally important for practitioners to achieve balance when implementing this approach. (NCBI.nlm.nih.gov)
It’s important that practitioners refrain from depending too heavily on the storytelling process and to use it only as one part of the treatment regimen. It’s also important to keep in mind that not all patients are interested in telling their story or exploring their innermost feelings; and respecting their desire to not be involved in the storytelling process is equally as important.
Originally Published in The Insight Bulletin www.insightbulletin.com
Therapy session photo available from Shutterstock