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Nursing Research and Practice
Volume 2011, Article ID 293837, 10 pages
Review Article

Understanding the Person through Narrative

1College of Nursing, University of Tennessee, 1200 Volunteer Boulevard, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA
2BeardenPsych, 5401 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919, USA

Received 27 December 2010; Revised 17 February 2011; Accepted 28 February 2011

Academic Editor: Sheila Payne

Copyright © 2011 Joanne M. Hall and Jill Powell. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Mental health nurses need to know their clients at depth, and to comprehend their social contexts in order to provide holistic care. Knowing persons through their stories, narratives they tell, provides contextual detail and person-revealing characteristics that make them individuals. Narratives are an everyday means of communicating experience, and there is a place for storytelling in nearly all cultures. Thus narrative is a culturally congruent way to ascertain and understand experiences. This means the nurse should ask questions such as “How did that come about?” versus why questions. A narrative approach stands in contrast to a yes/no algorithmic process in conversing with clients. Eliciting stories illustrates the social context of events, and implicitly provides answers to questions of feeling and meaning. Here we include background on narrative, insights from narrative research, and clinical wisdom in explaining how narratively understanding the person can improve mental health nursing services. Implications for theory, practice, and research are discussed.