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The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, And The Human Condition
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The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, And The Human Condition

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  394 ratings  ·  14 reviews
From one of America's most celebrated psychiatrists, the book that has taught generations of healers why healing the sick is about more than just diagnosing their illness.

Modern medicine treats sick patients like broken machines -- figure out what is physically wrong, fix it, and send the patient on their way. But humans are not machines. When we are ill, we experience our
Paperback, 304 pages
Published October 2nd 1989 by Basic Books (first published May 20th 1988)
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May 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Dr. Kleinman makes a distinction between illness and disease, and explains that the job of the physician is to reconfigure patients’ culturally-shaped “illness problems” (experiences of symptoms and suffering) as narrow, technical “disease problems” (anatomical or physiological changes). He claims that “the way of the the specialist diagnostician, which is not to credit the patient’s subjective account until it can be quantified and therefore rendered more ‘objective,’ can make a shambles of the ...more
Tzu-yuan Yen
This book has been translated in Chinese by a women whose husband was died of cancer. She is deeply moved by this book and tried to translate it. The result was not very good, but medical educators in Taiwan still recommend this book for medical students. Failures of modern medical system listed in this book are also big problems in Taiwan, because we implant most of the medical system from United States. What is worse is that our primary care doctors usually doesn't care for the whole family, o ...more
Mar 27, 2015 rated it liked it
It is doubtlessly a comfort to patients everywhere that Kleinman's book, addressed first and foremost to doctors and future doctors, does such an elegant job explaining how the medicalized procedure of getting a patient to describe their illness does violence to their overall experience of the illness. "*I* have the meaning of your illness, and you do not," it says. "The meanings you attach to it are irrelevant. And in fact, some of the symptoms you keep describing are irrelevant. I decide what ...more
Mar 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
I am not a doctor, I have no interest in the medical field, but this book kept my interest. I was required to read parts this for a class, but I finished it independently because I wanted to read more. I think this book can be revealing to everyone, whether they are doctors, med school students or prospective students, or just the average everymen that want to know more about the field. Some of the stories are hard to read but all are worthy of attention. I feel that after reading this i have mo ...more
Apr 12, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: doctors, nurses, social workers. people with chronic illness and their family members.
Shelves: school-related
So far, I am enjoying this book, although I am finding it really hard to get through. It is depressing to read the case studies, but I think Kleinman does a great job at really getting at the way chronic illness and pain affect all aspects of a person, and at the ways in which chronic illness is addressed by the world of medical professionals. You can really see the difference between a patient's lived experience of illness and the medical professional's pathological diagnosis of the same. I lik ...more
Sep 03, 2013 rated it liked it
I recognize the importance of this book. Yet, I also worried that Kleinman swung too far to the psychosocial end of the spectrum. His focus on chronic pain, though interesting, limits the applicability of his insights to diseases with a biological agent (eg AIDS or drug resistant tuberculosis). That said, his distinction between illness, disease, and sickness is useful for medical historians and anthropologists. Likewise, his method for displaying patient narratives and his interpretation is a h ...more
Rhonda Sue
Oct 21, 2015 rated it liked it
The first 50 or so pages were difficult to get through but once I got past that, I settled in and was able to appreciate the narrative stories of individual patients and how they dealt with chronic illness. Much of the book is for the clinician and may be difficult for the layman. My takeaway is that docs need to focus more on the illness and the psychosocial aspects as opposed to the biomedical aspects of disease. I originally picked up this book because it was referenced in a book on the Hmong ...more
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a pretty influential book, and with good reason--Kleinman illuminates the importance of looking at the "whole patient" when dealing with chronic illness and pain, instead of relying purely on psychoanalytic explanations or the biomedical model. As a person with a chronic illness myself, I appreciated Kleinman's nuanced take on the social *and* medical components of dealing with and treating chronic illness. it would have been nice if he'd included more of an analysis of ableist attitudes ...more
Jul 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful and compelling. My kind of book: a treatise of sorts on the experience of illness whose chapters begin with epigraphs from Roethke, Kafka, Rilke, etc. Arthur Kleinmen, a doctor and medical anthropologist, manages to be both sensitive and practical in his analysis of the medical system's failure to respond adequately to the needs of chronic patients. If I had my way, this book would be required reading for all doctors, present and future. ...more
Aug 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Lots of meaning for those who work with the chronically ill. He has some good insights into the state of medicine and this population.
Dec 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Like watching Citizen Kane for the first time. He had so many ideas that have become the basis of so much social science and medical "common sense". A fast, highly worth-while read. ...more
May 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I discovered from my last doctor's visit that Medicare now refers to your annual physical as an annual wellness check-up. Is their terminology change sémantic, or is there an underlying reason for the change? Could it be that an annual "physical" required unecessary costly lab tests, or patient/ doctor time? Would these costs diminish, if the doctor only performed tests or examinations that the patients requested because of experienced symptoms? Perhaps, one would hope that the change of termin ...more
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: med-crit
3.5 stars: This book does a really good job at separating biomedical "disease" and clinical treatment from illness experience. Despite its publication in 1988, it still feels highly relevant. The chapters are short and digestible for such an academic text, and the inclusion of full patient quotes and stories emphasized the larger theories and frameworks Kleinman advocated. However, a lot of Kleinman's discussions of psychosocial illness causes come across as victim-blaming and imply that coping ...more
Dec 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Good piece on caregiving in the medical field
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