Narrative Possibilities: using mindfulness in clinical practice

Narrative is ever present in medicine and is an integral aspect of the doctor and patient relationship. Although theoretical discussions of narrative medicine and narrative ethics are important, they may serve to reify the patient's story, to make it a specific entity. In practice, the patient's story unfolds in the moment of communication depending on the individuals and the circumstances; the story is not an "object." Patients' narratives heard in clinical settings are often limited by physician behaviors, especially the tendency of physicians to control the interaction with the patient. To develop individual narratives effectively and competently, physicians must be able to help the patient tell the story that is most important, meaningful, and descriptive of the situation. If the patient's narrative is not heard fully, the possibility of diagnostic and therapeutic error increases, the likelihood of personal connections resulting from a shared experience diminishes, empathic opportunities are missed, and patients may not feel understood or cared for. The practice of mindfulness—moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness—opens a doorway into the patient's story as it unfolds. Such mindful practice develops the physician's focus of attention and offers the possibility for a meaningful and important narrative to arise between patient and physician.