The description of humans as storytelling animals is so ancient that its source is lost to history, and so modern that it is the subject of cutting-edge neuroscientific research. That’s why such varied forms of communication as political speeches, news articles, advertising, TED talks, sermons, and after-dinner toasts often begin with a story. Empirically, we know that storytelling is an effective way to express ourselves, and recent research has helped to explain why. For instance, in addition to generating significant and varied neural activity, listening to stories causes the brain to release oxytocin, associated with empathy and cooperation.

Far from being self-indulgent or time-wasting, writing personal stories is a way of staying connected with yourself, as with an old and valued friend. It represents an opportunity to break the relentless focus on external goals and obligations, and to feel like a participant in, rather than a spectator of, your life. Moreover, becoming comfortable not only with the content of your own stories, but also with how they take shape and what it feels like to tell them, is an invaluable aid to understanding and helping others.

Suggestions for writing about your experiences and feelings appear in GETTING STARTED WITH REFLECTIVE WRITING. But it can also be helpful to hear or read other people’s stories — not to compare and contrast, or to decide who has it best or worst, but as an opportunity to develop new perspectives on your own experiences and your reactions to them.

To explore other people’s personal stories related to health care, you might want to look at medically oriented online sites such as KevinMD, Pulse, Folks, and the Bellevue Literary Review. Many of these venues also have comment sections where readers can engage in conversations if they wish.

If you’d like to read personal stories that are not related to medical care, an online search will turn up many online publications that specialize in personal essays on a broad range of topics. Lists of such publications appear in The Write Life and Beyond Your Blog.

For lists of book-length memoirs by patients, physicians, and other health professionals, click here and scroll down to the desired section.

Talks About Storytelling:

Donald Davis, How the Story Transforms the Teller. TEDx, Charlottesville, VA: December 23, 2014.

Jonathan Gottschall, Ph.D. The Storytelling Animal. TEDx, Furman University, Greenville, North Carolina: May 4, 2014.

Will Storr, The Science of Storytelling. TEDx, Manchester, UK: March 20, 2018.


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