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MGH Lecture Explores Healing Power of Storytelling

As a lecture sponsored by Massachusetts General Hospital on Thursday illustrates, the art of storytelling often holds healing power for those suffering from physical, psychological or spiritual illnesses.

“We can only control the physical aspects of health to a certain degree, but we are always in charge of our mindset,” wrote guest speaker Dr. Anne Brewster MD, executive director and founder of the Cambridge-based nonprofit Health Story Collaborative. “Healing narratives are relevant to all of us. These stories transcend illness as a celebration of hope, human resiliency and dignity.”

Dr. Brewster was a Harvard Medical student going through a divorce and raising a 2-year-old daughter when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001. She eventually remarried and had two more children before suffering from a second bout of symptoms in 2006. She admitted to herself that she was suffering from the disease at this time and began taking medicine to treat it. Still, she was ashamed and didn’t want her medical condition to define her, so she kept the diagnosis from all but her family and closest friends.

“I kept quiet, and I carried on, but this silence took a toll,” Dr. Brewster wrote. “Shame is poison. I was rejecting a part of myself.”

Dr. Brewster gradually came to terms with the disease, and in 2010, began recording stories from others suffering from myriad conditions. She established Health Story Collaborative three years later in response to her experiences as both a practicing physician and a patient living with multiple sclerosis.

“Over the years, I have learned that one of the most healing things I can do for my patients is to listen well,” Dr. Brewster wrote. “Patients want to tell their stories, and to feel heard. Unfortunately, the harried climate of primary care today rarely allows for such quality exchanges, and people are left wanting.”   Dr. Brewster ultimately views storytelling as a powerful method of healing for storytellers and listeners alike.

“All of us will encounter illness in our lives, either directly or indirectly,” Dr. Brewster wrote. “We need to reclaim our personal healing narratives, our stories.”

Dr. Brewster’s lecture will focus on the launch of SharingClinic – an ongoing, interactive exhibit at the MGH Paul S. Russell Museum that she founded and came out of her work with Health Story Collaborative. It is being launched in collaboration with MGH, where Brewster currently serves as a practicing physician.

The Massachusetts General Hospital Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation, located at 2 North Grove St., welcomes Dr. Brewster for a lecture entitled “The Healing Power of Stories” in the museum’s Putnam Gallery on Thursday, Jan. 21, from 6 to 8 p.m. A reception with light refreshments will follow in the Sharing Clinic.

For more information or to register, e-mail mghhistory@partners.org.

 

Dan Murphy: