cover image Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process

Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process

Lewis Mehl-Madrona. Bear & Company, $20 (324pp) ISBN 978-1-59143-065-0

Challenging the voice of conventional health care, Mehl-Medrona (Coyote Medicine) demonstrates the limits of modern medicine by looking to the perspectives and stories that have kept indigenous cultures (including his own Cherokee ancestors) healthy for centuries. A professor of family medicine and psychiatry, Mehl-Madrona avoids a ""problem-based"" vantage point, addressing root causes where conventional medicine addresses symptoms, using the body's natural tendency toward harmony and balance where others use drugs. Though it's not a new thesis, Mehl-Madrona illustrates it cleverly and accessibly (""Classical medicine stops at the frame of the body, ignoring the social world and... its multiple frames""). Mehl-Medrona invites readers into powerful tribal talking circles, as well as the sweatlodge, where patients conceptualize illness as an entity to battle. Case studies from North American and Hawaii natives demonstrate how stories themselves can spur healing: one troubled Hawaii youth was only able to identify his self-destructive behavior, and his need for help, after hearing a folk story about a boy with a man-eating shark mouth on his back. Though clearly pushing an agenda, Mehl-Madrona's arguments are compelling and level-headed, but occasionally lose momentum to excess exposition. This look at story and community's role in individual health convincingly advocates for a larger, more inclusive, more complete health care system.