Points of contact: Using first-person narratives to help foster empathy in psychiatric residents

Department of Psychiatry at New York State Psychiatric Institute and with Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City, NY 10032, USA.
Academic Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 0.81). 11/2010; 34(6):438-41. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ap.34.6.438
Source: PubMed


The authors aimed to determine if writing narratives in psychiatric training can foster empathy for severely and persistently mentally ill patients.
One resident wrote first-person narrative pieces about three different patients at a community mental health clinic. She reviewed these pieces with a writing supervisor weekly. The supervisor and resident examined the style of writing, choice of words, and story line to help the resident learn about her feelings about the patient.
In each narrative, different choices were made that provided clues about that particular resident-patient relationship. These writing exercises helped the resident become more connected to her patients, develop interviewing skills, and engage in more self-reflection.
Narrative writing effectively fostered empathy in a PGY-1 psychiatric resident working with severely and persistently mentally ill patients. This exercise also fostered understanding of countertransference and improved psychiatric history-taking skills. Psychiatry training programs may want to consider incorporating narrative writing exercises into their curriculum.

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