This past weekend, Lewis & Clark College hosted our third Narrative Scribe Training workshop, in collaboration with Northwest Narrative Medicine Collaborative. The training focuses on developing skills of listening deeply to stories of health, illness, wellness, disability, healing, and health care. Health stories are told in a variety of contexts, both inside and outside of the clinic, so making space for stories, receiving them, and knowing what to do with them are broadly applicable skills. We spent the day honing skills in attending to what is said, how it is said, what’s not said, and how our own social positioning shapes what we hear. We also experimented with different ways of representing what we heard (e.g., telling a story back or creating haiku to capture the gist of things). Throughout the day, we discussed how making space for stories is powerful for teller and hearer and can also be a form of social change.

We call the training “Signal and Noise: Scribbling in the Margins.” Too often patient stories are regarded as rambling or inefficient “noise” in the constraints of a clinical interaction. Family caregivers I’ve interviewed over the years have told me they feel guilty taking up room with their stories when the patient’s needs seem so much more urgent. Health care providers may have been trained to be detached or may be too taxed by the demands of their work to tell their own stories. When a storyteller comes from a marginalized group, their stories are even less likely to find a receptive ear. Narrative Scribe Training asks us to reconsider what’s signal and what’s noise and to bring health stories in from the margins.