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Coyote Wisdom: The Power of Story in Healing Paperback – March 1, 2005
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Mehl-Madrona (M.D., Ph.D.) outlines what he calls "narrative medicine," or a "storied" approach to disease and recovery that can be used in conjunction with standard medical treatment. Believing that answers to illness lie within each patient, he draws on such diverse sources as traditional Native American tales, pop-culture figures, and fictional characters to encourage patients to perceive how their illnesses have allowed them to accomplish a goal, and how to retain or transfer that goal while releasing the illness. One anorexia patient, for instance, attained a level of "perfection" with her extreme dieting that she couldn't bring about in other areas of her life. Working together, doctor and patient construct stories that externalize illness, rather than making it part of one's character. Case studies cover eating disorders, depression, battering, lupus, and various cancers, and Mehl-Madrona explains how, in extreme cases, the narratives are used to control pain or allow a patient to die more peacefully. A fascinating look at a branch of alternative medicine. Rebecca Maksel
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"Rather than a book of Native American stories, Coyote Wisdom successfully demonstrates how to . . . reinterpret and re-author the story of illness into one of health and well-being." (Alec Franklor, Edge Life, No. 179, Sept 2007)
". . . Mehl-Madrona shows how other forms of story have given his patients power, allowed for their transformation and healing, and shown them their connection with their community." (Sharon Kayne, Crosswinds Weekly, June 2005)
"There are few people who would not recognize some piece of their lives in each of these stories." (Sharon Kayne, Crosswinds Weekly, June 2005)
“Coyote Wisdom is about soul and mind--the shared journey of healer and patient toward insights and images that break us out of our frozen-heart places and transform awareness, and thus permit us to let go of suffering. As a physician and one who also strives to heal patients, not just treat them, I honor Dr. Mehl-Madrona for achieving a practical clinical method in Coyote Wisdom that is woven from the artistry of storytelling in the tradition of his elders and his reverence for the healing power of universal myths.” (James Lake, M.D., Chair, American Psychiatric Association Caucus on Complementary and Alternative Me)
“Coyote Wisdom is a gateway to understanding the importance of stories in rituals and ceremonies. Mehl-Madrona’s study of healers is a step forward in explaining the implicit wisdom that healers convey to help people get well. To journey with him is a way to be transformed and healed.” (Barbara Biziou, author of The Joy of Everyday Rituals)
“In this, his third book, Lewis Mehl-Madrona introduces systems narrative medicine, giving professional and lay readers alike a chance to learn the healing secrets of story from a master storyteller. Readers will finish the book inspired by the power of story as a catalyst for healing and enriched with practical guidance on how to access this power.” (Pamela Miles, author of Reiki: The Definitive Guide)
“Lewis Mehl-Madrona has spent many years exploring and developing means of integrating American Indian healing techniques into Western medicine. In Coyote Wisdom, he gives fresh insights into the power of the spoken word to bring forth miraculous healings and fulfill other human needs. His views on the psychology of the miraculous serve as an important contribution to our understanding of native medicine powers.” (William S. Lyons, Ph.D., author of Encyclopedia of Native American Healing)
“With his stories, I have seen Dr. Mehl-Madrona heal patients that all other physicians had given up on. The stories in this book are healing in and of themselves. Just reading them brings hope where there may have been none.” (David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., author of The Instinct to Heal: Curing Depression, Anxiety, and)
“Coyote Wisdom is an inspired book about how the spoken word can transform disease. Lewis Mehl-Madrona offers a perspective much needed by medicine today: that stories matter. Just encouraging patients to tell their stories and listening to them with full attention can increase the probability of spontaneous healings. Doctors and patients have much to gain by incorporating this wisdom into their lives.” (Andrew Weil, M.D., author of 8 Weeks to Optimal Health and Spontaneous Healing)
“In Coyote Wisdom, Lewis Mehl-Madrona writes that patients’ stories hold clues for how we can best help them. This is another way of saying that beliefs, values, and culture influence treatment. Medicine can work so much better by appreciating this.” (Thom Hartmann, bestselling author of Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight and The Edison Gene)
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Seeking to understand his clients from a non-invasive holistic perspective inclusive of their social, psychological, and spiritual selves, as well as their physical selves; Lewis Mehl Madrona began exploring a medical approach which looked at each client’s ‘case history’ instead of just the symptoms. Questions he asked include, ‘How much are we responsible for our health?’ and ‘Are family illnesses the result of genes or are they the result of memes, and could these mems be transformed?’ Similar in intent to the dream incubation techniques of the Asclepeions of ancient Greece, Mehl Madrona’s approach is that we can change our health through inspiration.
He starts his healing method by listening to and sifting through each client’s stories, diagnosing the symptoms they exhibit as keys to something deeper, out of hope that by transforming the root of the problem then he would heal the disease. Then he employed the indigenous approach of sharing a transformative story that spoke to the particular needs of each client. Throughout, he disperses anecdotes of clients that were healed by this technique. He also enlightened the reader to his beliefs, and scientific evidence that backed up his beliefs.
There are many positives to his approach. Listing them, 1) his approach is of course non-invasive. 2) it is holistic. 3) it utilizes the power of mind and the power of belief 4) it empowers the client to share responsibility for their own healing and 5) it honors the wisdom of traditions.
At the same time, critics could point out some negative points. These include the fact that 1) there is much more scientific support for a biological explanation of disease and its prevention. 2) Critics may question how much he utilized the scientific method? Did he utilize control groups? 3) In a related point, Mr. Mehl Madrona discusses the use of sweats and massages in conjunction with his story telling method. How is he sure that his healing was the result of the stories he shared rather than a massage, or a sweat? Possibly this book was written more for a lay audience and that might offer clues into its lack of scientific method. Skeptics may wish to consult some of his scientific articles before offering too many critiques of his themes. Still, I think critics would question his emphasis on storytelling while he combines several different healing techniques.
Despite critiques, the redeeming quality of ‘Coyote Wisdom,’ is Mr. Mehl Madrona’s main point: that healing should consider the whole person, their mental and social selves as well as their physical selves. He also demonstrates the power of storytelling, and finally he challenges psychology to become more inclusive of narrative approaches to disease and its prevention. It was these themes and of course the stories he shared that made ‘Coyote Wisdom’ a compelling read.
The stories he shares about his approach with individuals experiencing serious illness question the very nature of illness and "reality." How do we create a story –often deeply subconscious–about how life is. Or how we are? And can we create another story --or set of stories--to generate a new reality?
I really love this book. I would say if you’re interested in the healing arts or the power of story, it’s a great resource and a great read.