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Therapeutic acts of witness: why writing poetry and prose has never been just for patients
  1. Lori A Roscoe
  1. Correspondence to Lori A Roscoe, University of South Florida, 4202 E Fowler Avenue, CIS 1040, Tampa, FL 33620, USA; lroscoe{at}

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Humans are storytellers. Fisher argues that members of our species are predisposed to attend more to the logic of stories than to the disembodied syllogisms of formal logic.1 We make sense of our experiences by placing them in the form of a story, and we share our stories in the service of collective sense-making. As the authors and editors of our life stories, we can organise the endless flow of information, conversation and observation in ways that explain the behaviour of others, illuminate moments of tension and drama and often reshape ourselves as the protagonist, if not the hero. As described by Harter,

Narratives endow experience with meaning by temporally organizing events, distinguishing characters and their relations with one another, and ascertaining causality by virtue of emplotting otherwise disparate events … stories instruct us about what to pay attention to, demonstrate what counts and the perils of missing it, and judge actions and outcomes.2

Thus, storytelling gives us a sense of control over our interpretation of events and their implications for our identities and future choices.

People are particularly drawn to create stories about life events that disrupt their life narratives. As discussed in this issue by Peterkin and Prettyman,3 the ability to construct well-organised and meaningful narratives is an important skill …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.