The Art of Narrative Psychiatry by SuEllen Hamkins

In this video, SuEllen Hamkins presents her approach to narrative psychiatry:

‘A cutting-edge approach, narrative psychiatry brings together narrative and biological understandings of human suffering and well-being. Rather than focusing only on finding the source of the problem, narrative psychiatry also focuses on finding sources of strength and meaning. The result is compassionate, powerful healing.

Narrative psychiatry begins with compassionate connection with those who consult with us, understanding that we live our lives in relationships and connect with one another through the stories we tell. It relishes discovering untold but inspiring stories of a person’s resiliency and skill in resisting mental health challenges while exposing and dismantling discourses that fuel problems. It examines what the doctor’s kit of psychiatry has to offer in light of the values and preferences of the person seeking consultation, authorising the patient as the arbiter of what is helpful and what is not. Honouring the person’s own values and perspectives, as opposed to authoritatively imposing the doctor’s view of things, is a deeply respectful and empathic way to practice.

This video focuses on three key elements of narrative psychiatry: Creating a compassionate, emotionally attuned therapeutic relationship, cultivating and documenting narratives of strength and meaning in initial psychiatric consultations, and bringing narrative approaches to psychopharmacology.’

We hope you enjoy the presentation.



Powerpoints from this presentation

Narrative Psychiatry

More information

See SuEllen’s new book:

The Art of Narrative Psychiatry

Published on April 5, 2014

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. jesus alfredo whaley sanchez

    Estimada SuEllen , felicides por tu excelente libro,así mismo por tu labor para difundir la psiquiatría narrativa, yo vivo en la ciudad de mexico soy psiquiatra y quisiera tener contacto con psiquiatras narrativos porque aquí en mi país no hay me gustaría saber si existe algún entrenamiento para psiquiatras tomarlo,de antemano gracias por tu información y nuevamente mi admiración y mejores deseos

  2. Sande Ramage

    I found this an enormously helpful and hopeful presentation by a psychiatrist who is interested in drawing forward alternative stories. Thank you SuEllen.

    A few quotes really hooked me. The first when SuEllen talked about Ms Taylor being mired in a narrative of failure and despair. It was evocative imagery. I could imagine her there and equally start imagining how she could think up ways to create another image and story.

    I like it when people affirm that we experience our lives and identities through stories. This is absolutely how it is for me. First in mythology and then in avid reading and now more in experiencing story in movies. It’s my regular spiritual practice, to step into the movie and experience it as my own. Leaving the theatre I find it winds its way into my being in subtle ways. Awesome.

    SuEllen also talked about the importance of a person being able to make meaning about the medication they may be experiencing. This is powerful and part of what I understand contemporary spirituality to be on about, the vital act of making meaning.

    Thanks again SuEllen. Just loved it!

  3. Georgios Vleioras

    Dear SuEllen,

    Thank you for your inspiring presentation! I work in a psychiatric clinic, in which the psychiatrists assume a pharmacological stance against psychiatric disorders. Luckily, so far, they have never stopped me from trying different narratively-oriented ideas. It is for this reason that I liked your idea of making psychiatry narrative.

    I really enjoyed the initial consultation you presented. I have also noted that the people who consult me often come with a very well-articulated history of their problems. Usually, I let them say their story and while listening I try to spot openings for narratively-inspired questions to ask. So, it came to me as a surprise that you asked so fast about the “remaining” 10% that still wants to live.

    I also liked it that you wrote your document with a strength-based perspective. Sometimes, when I discuss with our psychiatrists, I find myself focusing on remarks of psychiatric interests such as “difficulty to focus”, “mood problems”, “she first heard a voice when she was 15”, etc. Eventually, I find myself refraining from discussing with them, because I don’t like such a stance…

    When I saw the phrase “narrative pharmacology”, I wondered whether this is a joke. In the setting where I work, when the discussion comes to medication, I only say that they need to comply with the psychiatrists’ prescriptions and that this is not something I can comment on. Now, I see that I could also include medication in my discussion, without, of course, taking a position for or against. What a change!

    Thanks again for sharing these beautiful ideas!


  4. David Moltz

    Dear SuEllen,

    I just had the pleasure of watching your video discussion of “Narrative Psychiatry,” in the Friday Afternoons at Dulwich series. It was inspiring, invigorating and validating for me.

    I have worked over the years to incorporate Narrative ideas in my work — or, to be more accurate, I have found congruences and connections between Narrative ideas and the ways of working that I have developed over many years. You have taken this a step — many steps — further, making explicit the ways in which Narrative practices can enrich and transform psychiatric practice.

    There are many specific moments in your presentation that I enjoyed and valued. To say that “we are embodied creatures” is an elegant statement of the connection between mind and body, the person and medicine. Staying connected to relationship, exploring skills and values, honoring the person’s history, commitments and preferences, all are direct translations from Narrative ideas, which you express so gracefully in your work as a psychiatrist. And I love your definition of compliance and non-compliance.

    I like that you are working in a traditional context, and making it your own. I was particularly surprised and pleased to see that you can express these honoring practices in the medical record, which is usually a compendium of problems and deficits. I wonder if you have had problems with insurance companies as a result, and how you have dealt with, or avoided that.

    I want to highlight the importance of your repeated interactions with the crisis team. By sharing your sense of MaeLee with them, you helped them change their perspective, and that changed their attitudes and behavior toward her. You offered an invitation to think in a different way, and they accepted it, because it worked better for them as well.

    Finally, I also value the long-term perspective that you offer. Twelve years is a long time, and what a gift, to be able to watch a person move in such positive directions over time. No miracles, no lightning bolts, just slowly, steadily, incrementally becoming more and more herself.

    Thank you for this work. I know that you have just published a book on the subject, and I look forward to reading that as well.

    Warm regards,

    David Moltz, MD
    Portland, Maine, USA

  5. Gaye Stockell

    Hello SuEllen
    So lovely to see and hear you and to become inspired again by the ways you have been taking narrative therapy into psychiatry.
    The 30 minutes passed too quickly. I would have liked to hear more about your ideas on what you call emotional atunement. Maelee recognised that your initial interview, often referred to as an assessment, was different. You joined her in engaging in an accounts of her skills and values. I wonder in what other ways Maelee would have experienced your contributions to your therapeutic connection?
    I would also like to hear your thoughts about how as narrative therapists we might explore the notion of being beholden and supported by our biology. What relational conversations might we have?
    Your considerations about how well might a doctor be complying with the person’s preferences in offering medication and resources sounds delightfully different!
    Thank you SuEllen….. you’ve given me lots to reflect upon and to share with others. Warm wishes Gaye Stockell

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