An embodied narrative perspective on transforming trauma and illness experience


Pini, S. & Wilde, L. (2024). An embodied narrative perspective on transforming trauma and illness experience. In A. J. Rasmussen & M. Sodemann (Eds.), Narrative Medicine: Trauma and Ethics. Vernon Press.

Trauma is notoriously difficult to communicate, as it often defies understanding. It unfolds over time and cannot be told through linear narratives. Nevertheless, we show that narratives can become a medium through which experiences of trauma may be shared, alleviating the sense of alienation common to post-traumatic experience. Drawing from one of the authors’ lived experiences of cancer and her illness narrative, we focus on the question of whether traumatic events can be narrated, known, and shared. In conversation with one another, and building on phenomenological literature on trauma (Husserl, 1973, Walther, 1923), illness (Carel, 2021, 2016), and working with an autoethnographic approach to cancer (Pini, 2022; Pini and Maguire-Rosier, 2021; Pini and Pini, 2019) in this chapter we address the ways in which creative and expressive illness narratives—particularly the sharing of such experiences—can help patients heal or repair from trauma. We identify the moment of the cancer diagnosis as a traumatic event, as it constitutes the expulsion of the individual into an alienworld: the world of the sick. We demonstrate how a philosophical account of unification (Walther 1923) may help shed light on the complexities of traumatic experience and highlight the potential of embodied narratives to re-establish a sense of belonging through sharing trauma experiences. We present a case in which performance art serves not only as an act of creatively re-modelling the performer’s illness narrative, but as a means to communicate this experience. Sharing the experience of trauma and recovery contributes to a re-constitution of a sense of belonging. We highlight that the (re-)constitution of feelings of belonging is a dyadic process between the traumatized individual and others. An illness narrative needs to be heard, seen, or otherwise witnessed in order to fulfil its full healing potential. In this way, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of how a narrative approach can be fruitfully applied in clinical practice.