Changing the Narrative of Healthcare Culture

Of all the books on my nightstand, Timothy Wilson’s, Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By, has quickly risen to the top of the stack. An easy-to-read, research supported, “how to” on the tools we can use to craft personal narratives that change behavior is music to an already adopted choir. What we have accomplished intuitively with good catch stories, and sharing of patient and provider stories in the healthcare workplace crafted to influence culture change to date, now has a loosely related scientific explanation as to why it may be working. All along, these stories have been providing the “story-prompts” Wilson speaks of–also known as alternative ways of viewing the tough, lesser talked about events that occur in a healthcare setting. Applying Wilson’s research on narrative to healthcare culture, the repercussions of patient harm which often includes healthcare professional feelings of guilt or depression compounded by the lack of a just culture from which to manage both can now be the “old” story, and we can eagerly rewrite exactly what we want our future healthcare culture to look like. We can create a better way of managing both patient and provider when things don’t go as planned by writing the new narrative, along with the roadmap to achieve our new healthcare worldview.

It was the recent NY Times Well Blog post, Writing Your Way to Happiness, by Tara Parker-Pope summarizing Wilson’s Redirect, that prompted me to sit down at the keyboard, as she writes:

The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast. Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory

The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health…

What is surprising to me is that this fact is surprising to so many. In third grade, thanks to the educational genius of Robin Fogarty PhD, an elementary school teacher at the time and now educational consultant, my classmates and I learned early on the power of daily journaling, or documenting the personal narrative. Wilson takes this healthy release one step further, and teaches those who want to change behavior to create a new personal narrative that matches the desired story of our lives. It’s not just writing the outcome either, but also a well-crafted tale of how to get there. His book provides real tools that can be applied to personal or professional life, as well as to encourage the lasting change needed in healthcare. And, his work reinforces the numerous posts on the power of storytelling here on ETY, as well as in the recently released eBook, Using Stories to Influence Change in Healthcare Culture.

For those who enjoy video versus an inviting tome, check out Wilson’s lecture below on the same topic!


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