Introduction to the Healing Narrative

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July 9, 2015

With Dr. Joel Kreisberg, DC, ACC & Reggie Marra, MA, ACC

The Healing Narrative

Interview with: Dr. Joel Kreisberg, DC, CCH, ACC & Reggie Marra, MA, IMC, ACC


DR. JOEL KREISBERG: Hi. I’m Joel Kreisberg.

REGGIE MARRA: And I’m Reggie Marra, and we’re here to talk to you about healing narratives. So, Joel, what is a healing narrative?

DR. JOEL KREISBERG: Well, let’s break it down. Healing is the process or experience that we go through when we go from illness or trauma or grief to wellness, and narratives are the stories that we tell. So healing narratives are a process that we use – both of us use it in our coaching and in our lives – to tell the story of our experience of healing.

REGGIE MARRA: Okay. And that makes sense. Is there such a thing as an illness narrative? And if so, how would that differ from a healing narrative?

DR. JOEL KREISBERG: Well, actually, illness narratives, I think, are told more commonly. So it’s such a common experience for us to not feel well, to have to go to the doctor and have some kind of disease, that that story of, “Oh, I got a headache,” or, “I didn’t feel well. I went to see this doctor. And this doctor, and then they gave me these pills, this way.” That’s the illness narrative, and there’s a whole academic tradition of studying the stories that people tell around their experiences of getting sick. The healing narrative is actually the experience of getting well. So there’s more of an emerging process of healing narratives that you and I are both exploring. So how are you exploring it?

REGGIE MARRA: Well, basically, I use healing narratives in a variety of ways. But from a personal standpoint, I’ve used it to explore my own grief and come to terms with my own grief through poetry writing primarily. When both of my parents died and when my sister who, you know, died unexpectedly in her 50s, passed away, my primary way of dealing with grief was through narrative, both poetry writing but also through conversations with people I could be open with. So I’ve used it in a very, very personal way in my life on a regular basis.

DR. JOEL KREISBERG: And so that was helpful for you to have that access to telling your story.

REGGIE MARRA: Absolutely. I think without both of those opportunities, both the writing it down as I do and the conversations with people whom I trust, I would guess I would have gotten through the grief sooner or later, but it was just immensely helpful to be able to speak it and be accepted for what I was saying without any judgment. Absolutely.

DR. JOEL KREISBERG: So then we could take that experience as a great example. And if we bring it into a coaching relationship or a healing relationship, then that offers someone the ability to actually use it as a healing tool or a healing resource.

REGGIE MARRA: Yeah, that makes perfect sense, you know. We both are coaches and we do some teaching around this. And I know when I coach, upfront, before I agree to work with someone and someone agrees to work with me, I make it very clear that journaling will be part of the coaching process, not that everyone is dealing with grief or loss, but the idea of a narrative in general is always helpful, I found.

DR. JOEL KREISBERG: Yeah, it’s interesting because actually – so this is one of the pieces of integral health coaching – because it’s like often health coaching focuses on making behavioral changes. And by bringing in narrative and story and journaling, we’re not just saying, “Okay, lose weight or exercise or feel better,” we’re saying, “How is that happening? How can I understand myself? What kind of awarenesses can I build in order to take myself from not feeling well, being overweight, to one in which I’ve actually learned how to heal myself?”

REGGIE MARRA: Yeah. Can you say a little bit more? Is there in your experience, is there a particular process or way to write a healing narrative?

DR. JOEL KREISBERG: Very often, the way I tend to introduce healing narratives, which is in both in classroom and also with clients, is to ask people to do a mindfulness sort of visualization where you sit quietly, reflect back upon your experiences of illness – you pick one event in which you didn’t feel well in your life, and then spend some time trying to become aware of the changes that occurred. How did you go from having a headache to feeling better? From having a loss or grief to feeling better? What was that experience like? So it’s a process of reflection, of imagination. And then taking the time to write or talk or share.

REGGIE MARRA: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It reminded me of something I read years ago before I’d even heard of healing narratives. Mary Catherine Bateson spoke to the power of having multiple versions of our stories or narratives in our lives, not so much that one is true or false so that you would deceive anyone, but that depending on what you chose to emphasize and in what context you told the story, the narrative can serve you in various ways. Does that resonate with your experience?

DR. JOEL KREISBERG: That’s wonderful because then often that process that I just described for you is something that you do it several times, and as you do it, the story starts to change. And as you start to heal, it starts to change. And as you tell that story to the coach or to a family member, it begins to change. And so you end up with multiple stories. And that’s actually very positive because we see that there’s many ways to heal.

REGGIE MARRA: Okay. Great. So in summary, as a brief wrap-up, we’re hearing that there is not exactly one way to write a healing narrative, although there are some skillful ways to begin the process, and that done well, there’s a good chance that the narrative will change over time to better serve the person who is writing it or telling it.

DR. JOEL KREISBERG: As well, it’s a perspective in integral health coaching that we have the disease narrative and the healing narrative, and both play a role in our process of meeting our health goals, and we just tend to want to bring the idea of healing narratives forth quickly and early in the process.

REGGIE MARRA: Okay. So, great. We’re pleased to bring you this little learning nugget from teleosis.org. And if you’d like to find out more about our programs, please visit the teleosis.org website. And that’s spelled as T-E-L-E-O-S-I-S dot O-R-G. Thanks very much for joining us.

DR. JOEL KREISBERG: Thanks for listening.

REGGIE MARRA: Bye-bye.

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