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Art and creativity foster a deeper understanding between patient and physician

A new website showcasing personal stories strives to encourage individuals to openly discuss their experiences and challenges within the healthcare system.

By Nana Olejank Hansen, , 2/21/2024

How can stigma be lessened? A team of researchers engaged in interdisciplinary collaboration at the University of Southern Denmark has proposed a solution. They have conducted numerous reading and writing workshops for patients dealing with alcohol misuse, obesity, or diabetes. Showcasing different and more creative facets of oneself has been identified as a means to mitigate stigma.

The project stories are now gathered on a website where visitors can access a collection of 13 narratives written and recordedy the participants. These narratives encompass accounts of individuals who have experienced stigmatization within the healthcare system.


Stigmatization is a negative trait; a social label. While some diseases are openly discussed, others are kept hidden and stigmatized. Stigmatization directly impacts individuals, and research indicates that it has repercussions for both physical and mental health.

People who experience stigma often delay contacting their doctor, and there is a risk that diseases associated with stigma may not receive as much priority. Alcohol misuse, obesity, and diabetes are lifestyle factors linked to stigma. Moreover, there are lifestyle factors that can contribute to liver disease, and detecting liver disease early is crucial.

- Stigmatization presents a significant barrier to collaboration. The aim of the project has been to enhance mutual understanding among patients, doctors, and society, explains Professor Maja Thiele, from the Department of Clinical Research at the University of Southern Denmark.

Narrative Medicine Against Stigmatization

The project is based on narrative medicine, a practice that places individuals at the forefront of medical care through storytelling. Narrative medicine courses for healthcare professionals aim to enhance their capacity to listen, inquire, and comprehend patients' narratives effectively.

The DECIDE project has engaged with narratives—that is, stories—through reading and writing workshops. This approach has enabled individuals with liver diseases to portray themselves through their vulnerability, creativity, and personality, rather than solely focusing on the perceived risk factors.

- Art has been employed in this context to initiate conversation, foster openness, and break down barriers among individuals who may have previously felt overlooked. This approach offers healthcare professionals a fresh perspective on their patients. Moreover, it has provided patients with a new outlook and deeper understanding of one another, explains Johanne Kragh Hansen, a PhD student at the Center for Liver Research.

The participation in reading and writing workshops has, among other benefits, bolstered participants' self-esteem and reinforced their self-narratives, consequently diminishing their self-stigmatization.

There are plans to conduct a follow-up study that could contribute to destigmatizing patients on a broader scale.

About the DECIDE Project

  • Research Project at the Center for Liver Research, SDU, OUH, and the Department of Culture and Language, SDU. 
  • The project aims to explore novel approaches to mitigate the stigmatization experienced by individuals at risk of developing liver disease. 
  • Participants were randomly selected from patients already in contact with the Center for Liver Research. They were categorised into three groups: those with a history of high alcohol consumption or alcohol abuse, individuals with obesity or type 2 diabetes, and patients diagnosed with alcohol-related cirrhosis, also known as liver cirrhosis. 
  • The study involved a cohort of 13 participants who participated in an eight-week reading and writing workshop.
Meet the researcher

Professor Maja Thiele, Centre for Liver Research - FLASH, Department of Clinical Research, SDU and Odense University Hospital, OUH.


Meet the researcher

PhD student, Johanne Kragh Hansen, Centre for Liver Research - FLASH, Department of Clinical Research, SDU and Odense University Hospital, OUH.


Meet the researcher

Anders Juhl Rasmussen, Department of Culture and Language.

Editing was completed: 21.02.2024