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Other People’s Stories

26 September 2017 - Dr Jan Orman

Humans of New York

Humans of New York is an amazing blog. There is always something worth thinking about in it's stories of ordinary people struggling with life. The stories are short and easy to read but each one contains an interesting message.

Take this story for example. Who would think that Forrest Gump would be anyone’s role model! This is the living proof that people can find what they need to survive in the strangest of places.

There is evidence that other people’s stories are very good medicine for those who are stressed and distressed. Not the stories that shout “FIRST WORLD PROBLEM!”, diminishing the reader by suggesting that their problems are nothing compared with the “real” problems of the rest of the world, but the stories that provide role models, spark ideas and truly resonate with the reader.

The power of stories

I have used stories like these in therapy for a long time – it’s probably an integral part of my therapy “style”. I know others who do it too. We weave stories about “friends”, “relatives” and “people we’ve known” in life, in the news or in literature into the therapeutic conversation and often patients will pick them up and run with them, finding parallels to their own lives or meaning in the differences. 

It can be interesting to recommend the Humans of New York blog to patients to see which stories they come back with and to discuss what it was that drew them to that particular story. It’s just another example of how we can use tools from the real world in therapy.

If you want to read a little more about the power of stories here is an article from the New York Times that might interest you.

Talking about mental illness in schools

There are stories all over the internet from people with lived experience of mental illness but it’s hard to know what is helpful and what is unhelpful.  Black Dog Institute’s schools education team have recently released a package of videos for use in schools that you might find interesting. It’s called “Talking About Mental Illness” and is designed to help teachers open up stigma-free conversations about mental illness amongst their students. Five young people tell their stories of their experience with mental illness in the videos in easily digestable ways. The package also includes resources for classroom use but the videos alone are worth a look as they may have a place in practice beyond the classroom.


To read more Humans of New York blogs click here.

To read the featured blog click here.

To read the New York Times article click here.

For more information on the on Black Dog Institute’s school’s education program “Talking about Mental Illness” click here.

Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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