The power of storytelling--the healing effect

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Beatrice Dolihite
  • 341st Medical Operations Squadron commander
Do you remember the stories you were told at bedtime as a child? Can you remember one that really inspired you? Did it make you want to become a hero?

Storytelling has been a part of my life for years. I grew up in a family where the dinner table was the center stage for hours of storytelling. I can remember sitting around the table listening to my parents and grandparents tell funny stories, childhood stories and even real war stories. I learned how my grandmother and grandfather fell in love and how my parents first met at age nine. I came to know so much about my family and myself during these storytelling sessions, that as an adult entering the health care profession, I quickly realized the power behind storytelling and its incredible healing effect.

At the 341st Medical Group, we strive to provide safe, quality care to all of our patients. As a medic, it is important to understand the story behind a patient's main complaint. When a patient shares a story with their health care provider, the knowledge gained by the provider can lead to the implementation of specific therapies or treatments and prevent unnecessary or lengthy delays in care.

Therefore, the lessons the medical community learns from storytelling are invaluable and contribute to the overall well-being of our patients. We encourage our patients to talk about their experiences. If their experience is a negative one, we evaluate that episode of care and follow processes which allow us to make changes to prevent future negative outcomes. We want our beneficiaries to know about the quality of care being delivered. The health care community has embraced transparency because it leads to a culture of safety. If one patient shares their story, other lives may be saved.

Storytelling also has a very profound healing effect for the storyteller. Health care workers, police officers, firefighters and first responders are often what we in the health care field call "second victims." Our jobs involve saving lives, but we don't always get the outcome we desire. Many health care providers struggle personally when this happens. In 2008, I was deployed as a Critical Care Air Transport nurse and upon my return from deployment, was interviewed for a special Wounded Warrior video. This was extremely healing for me as a medic because I got to tell my story.

We should encourage each other to talk about our experiences. Storytelling is a powerful communication tool that allows us to use our experiences in a way that will resonate with others and make a difference.

So what's your story? I encourage you to tell your story because it may save a life and even provide healing to yourself and others.