Medicine is just beginning to acknowledge the potential importance of spirituality, psychological constructs, beliefs and attitudes, to physical health. By bringing together narrative, qualitative and quantitative approaches, the study of wisdom and the importance of the life story can enter into the realm of scientific investigation and medical training.
At the University of Virginia, we are exploring the nature of wisdom and human adaptation to adversity in the context of patient experiences of living with chronic pain and physician responses in the aftermath of serious medical error.
We know that amid potentially debilitating circumstances, some people display a creative response to adversity and emerge as better people: patients gain a more positive outlook, physicians become more compassionate.
With the support of a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation, we have compiled more than 150 patient and physician exemplars that provide a rich body of narrative to aid in the discovery of the qualities, traits or circumstances that give rise to the development of wisdom from adversity. Using an appreciative inquiry approach, our interviews with patients and physicians are helping us to map the steps in the journey to wisdom, much as earlier work by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross did for the path through the stages of grief to acceptance.