Storytelling and poetry in the time of coronavirus

Ir J Psychol Med. 2020 Dec;37(4):278-282. doi: 10.1017/ipm.2020.36. Epub 2020 May 14.


The coronavirus crisis occurs at a time when many clinicians have already experienced burnout. One in three Irish doctors were suffering from burnout in the 2019 National Study of Wellbeing of Hospital Doctors in Ireland; rates are also high in Irish Psychiatry. We present a perspective on the use of narrative in medicine and recognise that storytelling, and the patient history are very much at the heart of medicine. Clinician storytelling, such as Schwartz Rounds and Balint group work, has very much come to the fore in Irish Psychiatry and in training. Projects such as MindReading have explored overlaps between clinicians, humanities experts and experts by experience. We give an overview of some approaches from the movement around narrative in medicine to bolster this. We explore why clinicians write as ways to support identification, catharsis and a way to process experiences. Clinicians and patients may also use literature and poetry to promote coping. The historical context and practical strategies are highlighted, particularly with reference to poetry use during the current crisis.

Keywords: Narrative in medicine; clinician burnout; compassionate care; medical education; medical humanities.

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional / prevention & control
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Narration
  • Narrative Therapy*
  • Pandemics
  • Poetry as Topic*