The Power of Storytelling

on Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We all have told them and have heard them; yes, ladies and gentlemen they are stories. When I hear the word “story” it takes me down memory lane, and reminds me of two pleasant things; my childhood and my Grandpa. Who would have thought that such a simple word could be so powerful. Imagine how the simple act of storytelling can have the same effect. A quote from Nancy Mellon states that “because there is a natural storytelling urge and ability in all human beings, even just a little nurturing of this impulse can bring about astonishing and delightful results.” Astonishing and delightful results were exactly what was seen in a scientific study that examined the power of storytelling in treating patients with hypertension.

The aforementioned study was lead by Dr. Thomas K. Houston, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts medical school. Dr. Houston stated that “telling and listening to stories is the way we make sense of our lives”, and this basic knowledge caused a light bulb in Houston’s head to flicker. He believed that stories may have the potential to improve health. What better way to prove it than to conduct a study? That is exactly what Houston did; he gathered a team together, along with 299 African American patients suffering from hypertension, and thus the study began. Half of the participants in the study were given a storytelling DVD that contained stories about real patients going through similar experiences as them. The other half of the participants were also given a DVD, but the DVD given to them did not contain stories, rather it contained generic health information about their illness; hypertension. All the DVD’s were distributed at three-month intervals and blood pressures were checked at 3, 6, and 9 months. The results obtained were “astonishing and delightful”. The participants that received the storytelling DVD’s had a decrease in their blood pressure almost, if not exactly as significant as those patients whose hypertension was treated with pharmaceutical substances.

The data collected from this study suggests that storytelling can be used to improve a patient's health. The findings of the study were of no surprise to Dr. Houston, and he plans to continue his research. Who knows what the future may hold based on the findings of this study. Maybe we will have Doctors handing out prescriptions for stories, nonetheless, remember to never underestimate the power of storytelling.


Mason Posner said...

We should let Jay Hosler know about this so that he can tell his publisher.

Patrick Schnieders said...

A very interesting and informative post! Dr. Houston came up with quite an innovative study.

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