The Power of Storytelling

Amongst humans, storytelling has been a practice and an art for thousands of years. Early societies transferred their histories, aspects of their cultures and their knowledge to younger generations through stories, and some Indigenous peoples still do. Storytelling is also a powerful way to gain the attention of others; the life of the party is often a great storyteller, for example, as are some successful politicians and teachers. Stories can be magical, and many will be long-remembered.

Recently, I have been studying the topic of storytelling as applied to health and health care, and the more I have learned, the less surprised I am that storytelling in the health realm has become very popular. My learnings accelerated when I viewed some examples of this art. On one occasion, I attended a virtual community meeting hosted by health care providers working in the Primary Health Care Integration Networks of Alberta Health Services. The meeting commenced with a woman presenting a digital story (video), about her husband’s recent hospitalization for a serious illness and what they both experienced after his discharge. A facilitator then used a series of questions to guide the storyteller into a more detailed discussion of their experiences, and these provoked many questions and comments from community attendees. Ultimately, the group conversation moved toward concrete solutions for the problems that had been identified, and how these would be rolled out. The video was short, but amazingly powerful. The discussion was compelling. The new directions were hopeful. I still vividly remember the details of this session.

IMAGINE Citizens has started to think about developing a health storytelling initiative, and has charged a group of IMAGINE leaders with the responsibility of creating a Development Plan. IMAGINE’s goals would focus on community engagement and education and on promotion of positive health system change.

An IMAGINE Citizens health storytelling initiative is exciting to contemplate. The project would not stand alone, but be designed to support and link ongoing IMAGINE initiatives. Once created, these stories could be used in various ways: to introduce and animate discussions with community groups, for example, or in meetings with health care provider groups and/or their students. They would be shared on our digital platforms to further important conversations. In the near future, perhaps you will be able to share an important health or health care experience, or that of a loved one, by working with IMAGINE Citizens to create a digital story, thus influencing many.

Robert Bear, IMAGINE Citizens volunteer