There is a new elective at the Yale school of medicine available to both psychiatry residents and medical students looking for something a little bit different. The elective infuses fairy tales into otherwise traditional thinking surrounding childhood development. It is designed to help medical professionals better relate to their patients
So how about you? How do you feel about fairy tales being combined with psychiatry jobs? It is a question more doctors are asking themselves now that Yale appears to be on board with the idea. It could be that fairy tale studies eventually become part of the core curricula for future psychiatrists.
It’s All about Perspectives
The Yale News published a write-up on the elective published in mid-September (2018). According to the publication, the elective “Fairytales and Psychiatry: Perspectives on the Significance of Metaphor, Storytelling, and Imagination in Childhood Development” was offered for the first time during the 2016-17 school year. More than 50 psychiatry residents and medical students took it.
Course creators published a report on the results of the first year’s study in an Academic Psychiatry article published in late August. According to them, using fairy tales as a way to interact with patients on a more personal level brings both patients and doctors more closely together.
The idea here is to teach doctors new ways to understand patient perspectives. Because psychiatry is a medical discipline, psychiatrists have a tendency to engage on a level that is more pharmacologically based than interpersonal. Doctors are trying to understand what’s going on so that they can prescribe the appropriate medications. But that may not always be the right way to go.
Making a more personal connection makes it possible for psychiatrists to better understand the thinking of the patient. The patient’s perspective may indicate that certain medications are not the best course of treatment. The patient’s perspective might even eliminate the need for medication altogether.
The Psychiatry of Little Red Riding Hood
One of the fairy tales used in the course was Little Red Riding Hood. According to course creators, the well-known fairy tale encapsulated the goals for the program. Key to its relevance is the fact that the rather old story has a number of different endings that lend themselves very well to different interpretations.
How a person interprets the story can go a long way toward explaining cultural, societal, and other influences on that person’s thinking. Looked at through the eyes of a psychiatrist, those interpretations and influences can lead to a more human connection.
Going beyond Symptom Management
A good way to look at the fairy tale idea is to view it as a way of getting beyond just symptom management. Indeed, far too much of Western medicine is focused only on symptoms. Private practice owners, employed doctors, and locum tenens physicians alike are all trained to identify symptoms and then manage them through prescribed treatments. But what about the core problem causing the symptoms?
The interesting thing about psychiatry is that the mental illnesses doctors deal with manifest themselves in human behavior. That means doctors are simultaneously dealing with both physical and emotional issues. Introducing fairy tales into the mix makes it easier for doctors to make the kind of connection necessary to adequately address the emotional aspects rather than focusing just on the physical alone.
It remains to be seen whether fairy tales become a normal part of psychiatry jobs. But wouldn’t it be interesting if they did? Engaging with patients to talk about fairy tales would certainly put psychiatry in a whole new light.