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The Healing Power of Storytelling: Using Personal Narrative to Navigate Illness, Trauma, and Loss (Paperback)
Reframe your story--and reclaim your life--through the transformative practice of writing and storytelling.
When Harvard-trained physician Dr. Annie Brewster was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, she realized firsthand that the medical system to which she’d devoted her entire career was failing patients. The experience was dehumanizing. Her doctors weren’t listening. And the confusion, fear, and shame she felt around her diagnosis was preventing her from truly healing, claiming her story, and living her fullest, richest life.
The fact is, doctors can give you a life-changing diagnosis, but they’re not equipped to help you deal with the inner fallout: the confusion, anxiety, trauma, and dread that comes after “I have some bad news.” Here, Dr. Brewster shows how writing your own unique healing story can help you process what comes next--to come to terms, create new ways to thrive, and even reclaim your personal power amid fear, change, and uncertainty.
Dr. Brewster and journalist Rachel Zimmerman each share their own personal stories, acting as expert guides as you move forward on your healing journey. With exercises, reflections, writing prompts, and stories from other real patients, Dr. Brewster and Zimmerman show how you can:
• Process the difficult emotions that come with life-changing diagnosis
• Move beyond being the hero of your own story to become the author of your own story
• Craft your narrative and share it in whatever medium speaks to you: music, audio, art, or writing
• Integrate a traumatic health event into a new and evolving identity
• Use applied storytelling techniques to strengthen connections between you and your loved ones (and even your care providers)
• Cultivate resilience to move forward amid uncertainty and fear
About the Author
ANNIE BREWSTER, MD, is an Assistant Professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a practicing physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2001. She started recording patient narratives in 2010 and founded Health Story Collaborative (HSC) in 2013. Brewster lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband, four children, and two dogs. She loves to hike, run in the woods, ski, and play ice hockey. You can learn more at www.healthstorycollaborative.org and @HealthStoryCo.
RACHEL ZIMMERMAN has been a journalist, writer, and editor for more than two decades, including as a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal, a health reporter for WBUR, and co-founder of the blog CommonHealth. She has been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, and more. A Brooklyn native, Zimmerman lives in Cambridge, MA, with her family. Yoga and running keep her grounded. Reach her at https://www.rachelzimmerman.net/ or @zimmerman082.
“In these pages, Dr. Annie Brewster quotes philosopher Daniel Dennett, who said 'words are potent elements of our environment,' and shows us the agency we have to shape our narratives—the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves—to bolster our sense of self and, above all, meaning. Through her own struggles, the stories of patients and participants in Healing Story Sessions, a dive into research on narrative identity, and a practical framework for storytelling, Dr. Brewster gives us an important guide for moving forward amidst struggle, using the power—the surprising, moving, mighty power—of words.”
—Lucy Kalanithi, MD, FACP, clinical associate professor of medicine, Stanford University, and widow of Dr. Paul Kalanithi, author of When Breath Becomes Air
“Annie Brewster’s new book is revelatory. With the authority that comes from being a patient and a doctor simultaneously, Brewster is able to excavate the deep power of storytelling. The stories and journeys she shares—her own and others’—are riveting. The Healing Power of Storytelling is an invaluable guide for patients, families, medical professionals, and all of us ordinary mortals grappling with life.”
—Danielle Ofri, MD, PHD, author of What Doctors Feel
“A beautifully written and compassionate work that highlights how deeply storytelling—by patients and doctors—helps recovery, health, and, ultimately, healing.”
—Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies
“The Healing Power of Storytelling is a thoughtful self-help resource with guidance for finding meaning in the face of life-changing illnesses. Its work is profound and insightful, imparting genuine hope without false promises.”
—Foreword Reviews, starred review