Suffering, Stories, and Healing: Narrative Medicine Tools for Health Care Providers

May 30, 2018 5:00AM

Pain and suffering are not static entities. They appear differently throughout history and across cultures, from one human to the next. One person may continue to find life meaningful and fulfilling despite being in pain, while another may have all meaning and sense of identity destroyed as a result of persistent pain. When caring for those in pain, our goal should therefore not solely be based on trying to stop the pain, but also to alleviate suffering even if the pain itself persists.

When considering a patient's experience of suffering, philosophical and theological considerations specific to each patient's narrative and sense of meaning in the world become central aspects of patient care.

In this webinar, we will explore the difference between pain and suffering, focusing on suffering as the dimension of existence we aim to heal when pain is intractable. Underpinning our discussion with philosophical and theological explorations of the concept of suffering, we will focus on the role of Narrative Medicine in the care of chronic pain patients. Suffering may relate to narrative wreckage, a sense that one's life story is halted and the life-giving components of identity are destroyed, leaving only a hopeless, plotless vision of the future.

By focusing care specific to each patient's life narrative, health care providers can better understand why patients suffer and feel a crisis of identity amidst pain, provide them with the tools to be resilient in their particular context, and most importantly, empower them to regain agency and hope within their stories - even stories that include pain. Health care providers can easily adopt a 'narrative medicine' approach in their daily work with a few alterations in how they ask questions, listen, and provide advice to patients in pain.

This webinar will provide these tools and resources, and may be useful for both patients and health care providers.

Learning objectives:

  • Differentiate between pain and suffering;
  • Re-focus care on an alleviating patient's experience of suffering rather than pain alone;
  • Explain the basics of narrative medicine and the reason why it is critical in chronic pain medicine;
  • Develop practical narrative medicine tools to aid in conversations with those in pain.
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