“StoryCorps Rehab”: Using oral narratives to foster engaged listening in the clinic and classroom


To illustrate a model of oral narratives used in physical therapy education with the following aims: (1) to develop active and engaged listening skills, (2) to foster mindfulness and a sense of partnership during the therapeutic interaction, (3) improve narrative reasoning abilities during evaluation and treatment, and 4) enhance emotional intelligence and competence with sensitive conversations.


The founder of StoryCorps, David Isay, explains listening as a universal act of love.1 StoryCorps was created with the mission to “record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs".2 This form of oral narrative seeks to reveal and celebrate shared humanity, “to strengthen and build the connections between people, and to teach the value of listening".2 The principles that drive StoryCorps are also central to clinician-patient relationship, as the clinician bears witness to the patient’s journey through the stages of recovery. One of the challenges, and privileges, of the rehabilitation professional is that of creating a therapeutic space for patients to encounter their fears in the face of injury and illness.3 Many have claimed that the greatest problem with modern healthcare is the failure of clinicians to let the patient tell their story.4 These shared stories may provide insight into the patient’s experience of disease and disability, allowing the patient to effectively engage with their rehabilitation plan and reveal essential motivations. To highlight the importance of conducting a thoughtful and thorough interview in clinical settings, doctor of physical therapy students are asked to use the StoryCorps app to record an interview with an older adult, such as a grandparent, during their geriatric course. After the recorded oral interview, classroom discussion of student reflections on the interview experience aims to promote deeper analysis and articulation of insights gained. Finally, students are asked to consider how these insights may apply to clinical interactions and patient outcomes.


Overarching objectives included cultivating competence with sensitive conversations as well as creating opportunities for reflection. The resulting interviews and class discussion revealed consistent themes about the importance of active listening, and the role of trust and respect during therapeutic encounters.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education

By actively listening to patients, healthcare providers attune to the patient as person and glean valuable information that may positively impact the diagnostic process and the plan of care, thus helping to compassionately and optimally construct the next chapter in the patient’s recovery. Using oral narrative methods such as StoryCorps, the simple act of listening can help patients find meaning and direction through the chaos and uncertainty of illness.


1. Kristen Tippet with David Isay. “Listening as an Act of Love” On Being. https://onbeing.org/programs/david-isay-listening-as-an-act-of-love/ Published May 12 2016. Accessed April 7, 2017.
2. StoryCorps website: "Mission" https://storycorps.org/about/ Accessed April 7, 2017.
3. Brown BP. Interpreting Medicine: Lessons From a Spanish-Language Clinic. Ann Fam Med. 2014; 12: 473-474.
4. Robertson K. Active Listening-More than just Paying attention. Australian Family Physician 2005:34(12).

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  • Control #: 2748224
  • Type: Posters
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Dr. Sarah Blanton, Donna Smith, Emma Goldberg
  • Keywords:

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