A narrative framework for understanding experiences of people with severe mental illnesses

Helen Kirkpatrick
Archives of Psychiatric Nursing 2008, 22 (2): 61-8
This article discusses the value of a narrative approach to understand the experiences of people with severe mental illnesses and the systems around them, and the importance of narrative in the patient-practitioner relationship. These are important concepts in the shift to recovery-oriented systems. People lead storied lives which provide coherence and meaning, but that story has the potential to be change. Both consumers and practitioners have stories, and it is the shared decision-making between them that can lead to recovery. Narratives can be illness narratives, initiated by an illness and the search for meaning in it, or counterstories which are inherently political. The article identifies a Framework for Understanding Stories as a means for listening to and understanding stories at multiple levels. It can be useful for nurses to understand complexity and multilevel aspects of an individual's experience. Although people tell their own individual stories, they compose them by adapting narrative types, which a culture makes available. Programs tells a story and provide an important context for both consumers and practitioners. Dominant societal narratives provide an overall context which can be empowering or disempowering for programs, consumers and practitioners. Thus, as the recovery paradigm has become more prominent, people with mental illnesses have increasingly talked and written about recovery.


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