Robert Coles (1929-) is one of Americas great moral visionaries, who spent most of his life probing different issues about the importance of morality in therapeutic situations. The long-time Harvard University professor, author of 60 books, and child psychiatrist has authored The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination, which tackled the power of narrative storytelling and established literary techniques to teach that doctor-patient relationship is best approached in a non-academic and personable way (Coles, 1989).
In the first chapter of Coles book, which he titled Stories and Theories, the prolific author had told of his experiences and early influences (e.g., his mentor Dr. Alfred O. Ludvig) as a young psychiatrist coming to grips with the urgent need to jettison his symptomological method to patients. In his part-documentary, part-biographical first chapter, Coles was preoccupied by making a convincing case that if we want a fuller understanding of ourselves and the experiences of others, narrative storytelling in the form of personal narratives and the established literary tradition must be employed liberally. Coles criticized how too much psychiatry has been based on a very elitist slant that only the psychotherapist can discern the true narrative of the patients illness or sickness, while the patient evades the truth. In contrast, he suggested on what therapists should do instead, which is to convey or evoke the thoughts and feelings of their patients. He accounted his method to the notion that each individual must come to terms with their circumstances and overcome the same.
The whole chapter is unlike many books about psychology or the field of mental health practice because of the way it was written. Primarily, his approach to writing it neither allow for sweeping generalizations nor point to a clear characterization of his position, albeit suggesting that this book extend the illness narrative model of Artur Kleinman and Don Seeman. For the two anthropologists, argued that it is not sufficient to rely on cultural knowledge to predict or describe the outcomes of medical and policy interventions in the lives of patients and communities (Kleinman, 1988; Witeska-Mlynarczyk, 2012).
In illness narratives, microcultural views play a vital role in showing up the difference between ones self and others views of health, illness and suffering. This is because illness narratives help negotiate the authority of experience versus the authority of expertise (Mazurek, 2015). In the process, narratives become not only become an alternative guides to institutionalized and professional sources of help, they also become sources of knowledge for providers of support for the ill. When individuals describe the experienced illness or trauma, such help define the meaning of the critical event and help rebuild what has been lost in the individuals biographical continuity. Through the process, the individual is able to cope in a better way with suffering and anxiety. But as an extension of illness narrative, the stories told are stored as memories that other patients and their relatives can use to learn about people suffering from similar or same diseases, their means of coping, the different stages of treatment, and more of the likes (Coles 1988). In a microlevel, through reading the stories, learning and understanding of the patients case may solve relationship gaps between the doctor and the patient. The macro-level effect of pulling off the narrative voices of patients is transformational, and could lead to massive social changes when flaws in systems were laid bare.
Coles, Robert. (1989). The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Co. Retrieved from http://www.udel.edu/educ/whitson/897s05/files/Hirsch/ColesStories-.pdfKleinman, Arthur. (1988). The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human
Condition. New York: Basic Books Inc. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/120753325/The-illness-narratives-Suffering-healing-and-the-human-condition#scribdMazuerk, Emilia. (2015). Illness Narratives Between Personal Experience, Medical
Discourse, and Cultural Practice. Retrieved from http://hrcak.srce.hr/file/208048Witeska-Mlynarczyk, Anna. (2012). Why and how to include anthropological perspective
into multidisciplinary research in the Polish health system. Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine. vol. 19, no. 3. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23020046
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