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Lewis Mehl-Madrona – The difficulty of practicing narrative medicine

Recently I received an email from a woman who spent a month in my family medicine office in 1985 as a medical student. She told me a story. She asked if I remembered a couple who were having twins then. They were in their twenties and healthy. She reminded me about how I had done hypnosis with the woman to help prevent premature labor, which was threatened. (I published a paper about the use of hypnosis to stop premature labor based upon that work). Her uterine irritability stopped and she went on to give birth to full-term twins. My former student recalled sitting with me as I interviewed the couple and spoke to the husband. She reminded me that I presented a paradox to him, about working too hard, sacrificing himself for the good of the family, taking care of everyone else but himself, and mentioned that if he continued to live that way, the paradox was that he might die earlier than he wished, thereby failing to care for everyone in the way that he truly wanted. I offered him that paradox in an almost tongue-in-cheek manner, hoping to engage him in thinking about self-care — obvious things like diet, exercise, rest. However, he took the paradox as fact and agreed with me because it was his value system. In our one meeting together, I was unable to dissuade him from his story about how to live. After the session, my former medical student said, “you predicted… a guy like that will drop dead early from a heart attack.” Twenty-five years later, he did, in his early fifties. He hadn’t changed his story or his lifestyle.

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