Harnessing The Healing Power of Stories


Health Story Collaborative Blog

Harnessing the healing power of stories...

Healing Story Session National Expansion: Request for Proposals


Request for Proposals:

Project Developer: Healing Story Session National Expansion


Background: Health Story Collaborative, a nonprofit committed to harnessing the healing power of stories, is seeking a contracted project developer to manage the process in the expansion of their Healing Story Session program. This research-based process of storytelling works with patients, health care providers, and their communities to support healing, community, and resilience. After successful pilots in two locations, the program is now expanding nationally and seeking a contracted project developer to work closely with the Executive Director and Chief Academic Officer to oversee this expansion. In May 2018, we organized a story session and training in Minnesota for 200 people, with several strong sponsoring organizations. Interest in this work is high. We are looking for an additional partner to grow with us.


Project goals:

Within 18 months:


● 400 people trained in the methods and research behind Healing Story Sessions

● 200 people active in a healing story network, sharing learning, building relationships, and developing collaborations to harness the healing power of stories

● 20 people certified as healing story session facilitators

● 10 organizations, such as health care systems, integrating healing stories into their work

● Financial engine for overall healing story network and local healing story sites sustains ongoing work and expansion


Qualities sought in the Project Developer:

● Entrepreneurial

● Relational

● High level of skill in developing and managing projects and partnerships.

● Able to work well independently, as well as collaboratively

● Ability to generate and manage income in mission-driven projects

● Ideally, experience and interest in storytelling and/or health


Contract position, part-time, variable hours based on project stage and availability. Others on the Health Story Collaborative team are based in Boston and Minneapolis. A contractor based in one of these locations would be an advantage, but isn’t essential. Most work will happen remotely.


Project process overview:


Research possible partners for the expansion and build partnerships that serve both Health Story Collaborative and the partner’s organizational goals, including with: CaringBridge, the Center for Spirituality and Healing,storytelling organizations, and academic institutions, including medical schools with programs in the medical humanities.


Organize webinars and public events in key locations to introduce the Healing Story Session model to a diverse mix of individuals and organizations in ways that attract interested people and invite deeper involvement. Use online reading and videos for preparation and follow-up after events and webinars.


Develop tiered levels of training and involvement, both online and in person, including:

● Training for facilitators and organizers of Healing Story Sessions

● Certification of facilitators, with remote mentoring and feedback of their Healing Story Session work

● Customized trainings in the application of healing stories for physicians, patients, social workers, and other specific roles

● Ongoing coaching and technical assistance for people facilitating Healing Story Sessions that balances the integrity of the model with flexibility and creativity of application.

● Consulting with organizations as they integrate healing stories into their work


Oversee the development of an online network hub for connecting with others in the network, and sharing information.


Develop ongoing evaluation and learning processes to assess the impact of the project and continuously improve the model and implementation.


Envision and manage project income generation through training fees, donations, consulting, and manual sales.


The first phase of the project is to build organizational partnerships for this expansion and organize an initial webinar story session and workshop. We are seeking a part-time, contracted partner to lead this phase. If that phase goes well for the contractor and for Health Story Collaborative, we anticipate renewing and expanding the contract to continue the project.


Proposals should be sent to Michael at michael.bischoff@healthstorycollaborative.org. This RFP was posted on June 25, 2018 Open until filled. Questions by email welcome.


Please include:

● An explanation of your interest. Tell us a good story!

● Your qualifications and relevant experience

● Your availability, including the amount of time you would have available for this part-time position

● Contact information for 3 references who have seen you do related work.

● Tell us what you imagine accomplishing in an initial contract of $2,000 as a part of phase one of the project, described above. If you have a proposed hourly rate or other suggested ways to structure payment, include that in your proposal. We anticipate stages of the project that adapts the payment and responsibilities based upon project progress, income generation, and needs of the contractor and organization.

● We don’t expect one person to do all of the things listed above--but to shepherd the process. Tell us how your strengths and interests would best fit with this project.


A Reckoning with Social Anxiety


By Mikayla Valdes

My social anxiety plays me like a deceitful little game, except I spent the last 15 years pretending like I wasn’t on the court. The painful shyness I faced as a child, my inability to smile at any adults except my parents until the age of eight, the meeting with my fourth-grade teacher that my concerned mother sat through, afraid her daughter wasn’t voicing her needs: it’s always been you, dear social anxiety. My conviction in middle school that my friends didn’t care about having me around: that was you, too, wasn’t it? You pushed and pushed with such excruciating force until that stupid conviction became my reality. As did tears, insecurity, and a lack of reassurance I desperately needed. In high school you hid behind black skinny jeans, punk rock band t-shirts, and an eating disorder that wasn’t glamourous like in the movies. You danced around obsession, meticulous numbers, and crippling self-judgment. This is my reality, and the reality of millions of other people. And we are being ignored.


What if our society ignored the number of people who suffered from cancer each year? What if we claimed that cancer wasn’t real and its effect on lives was simply a conjugation of one’s imagination? If we stigmatized this illness, how would it impact those 15 million Americans who live with it? How would it make them feel? We don’t ignore those battling a physical illness because it’s usually easy to see how they manifest, yet mental health disorders can be harder to see and are thus treated differently.


The number of people who live with cancer every year is equivalent to the number of North Americans who live with social anxiety. That’s roughly 7 percent of our continent’s population. The disorder is more prevalent among teenagers and college students: an estimated 10 percent of college students suffer from significant social anxiety disorder, and general anxiety disorder affects an astounding 25 percent of teenagers. So why is the second most commonly diagnosed form of anxiety disorder is also so commonly overlooked? It’s challenging enough to live with a mental illness: its stigmatized reputation is an additional obstacle to overcome.


The stigma American society has so carelessly placed upon those struggling with social anxiety is rooted in insensitivity and judgment. The ignorance that drives this stigma not only discourages people from seeking help but attempts to convince them they have no problem to begin with. The pressure to break out of the shyness and nervousness becomes debilitating. When someone is repeatedly told their struggles don’t exist or their social awkwardness is just something they need to suck up and get over, we begin to believe it. I know I did.


My social anxiety made me question all the wrong things. I questioned the value of my curvy physique. I questioned my ability to be alone for hours at a time and not crave any verbal exchange. I questioned why people assumed I was so shy when I didn’t raise my hand in class, even though I always knew I had something to offer. At the time, I didn’t know what kept restricting me. I had questioned why everyone I knew was making friends at college, while my “friends” kicked me out of their roommate pool instead.


My first semester in college drained me. The pressure of constant socialization and having to present my best, bubbly, and agreeable self to everyone I confronted took a toll on my mental health. If I was anything but outgoing and always eager to go out on a weeknight, I was afraid my worst internal fear would come true—people would only pretend to be my friend because they felt a sense of pity towards me. I spend an exorbitant amount of energy and time rehearsing what tone I would use to respond to my name during attendance call in class, or considering which shoes would make the least noise when I walked into a 300-student lecture. One night my roommate asked me to make a phone call to the resident hall janitor because our window was jammed. I knew exactly the look I shot her, one brimming with such nerves and astonishment that makes someone wonder if they’ve suddenly sprouted a second head. She stared back at me quizzically and within seconds quickly muttered, “Never mind, I’ll do it.” The conversation ended abruptly. Why couldn’t I do it? Social anxiety.


But now I know it’s you, anxiety. Things make sense now: why I overthink the most basic social interactions, why I can’t present an accurate first impression no matter how hard I try, and why making friends is a hurdle I never fail to trip over. I need constant reassurance from the people in my life that I matter to them; that they want me to be there, and I haven’t just shoved my way in. I understand now that you are the driving force behind that heavy weight of insecurity that has travelled with me throughout my first year of college. But I want you to know that I am not afraid of you. Coming to college has given me the courage to speak openly about the daily challenges you provide. Because of you, I have discovered my passion of advocating for mental health awareness. I have overcome my eating disorder. I have made a friend or two, and I’m working on making some more. Thank you for being a constant in my life, dear social anxiety. Yes, you are a piece of me. But if you think you are going to define me, you are so painfully mistaken.


Mikayla is a sophomore at Boston College studying Communication with a minor in Management and Leadership. She is an active writer for Spoon University, an online food publication, and also enjoys playing guitar and spending time in New York City.

A Sense of Purpose: Turning Grief Into Action


Another Conversation with Robyn Houston-Bean, Founder and Director, The Sun Will Rise Foundation




In our first interview, Robyn shared how the support from her grief counselor, her friends, and her support group had all helped to hold her through her darkest months after her son’s overdose. Nearly a year after his death, she discovered that community action was her path to healing, and started her own support group in Braintree, MA. Soon she launched The Sun Will Rise Foundation. Her insights about how support groups and community service can empower us after a tragedy sparked a whole new conversation.


Val: Can you describe what gave you a sense of purpose a few months after Nick’s death?


Robyn: After a few months of grieving, I attended an event with a group called Hand Delivered Hope that does street outreach for those living with active addiction and who call the streets home. Joining in with other families and feeling so welcomed and accepted, it suddenly struck me that I had a sense of purpose: My child was not here anymore, but I could help another child. Although my Nick wasn’t here, someone else’s child needed my love and support. This warm, friendly group and others, such as Let It Out and The Boston Grief Group, inspired me and gave me strength to start my own group in Braintree. I knew we needed a grief support group closer to where I lived because I finally realized the scope of all this grief out there in the world. It’s so important that support groups are convenient for local people to meet and come together easily. We need people to understand us and validate our feelings, so we don’t have to make excuses for our tears and our laughter.


Val: I would love to learn more about how helping others is healing for you.


Robyn: To put it simply, helping others helps me. I know that if I didn’t go down the path of helping others, I would be at a different place with my grief. Helping others forces me to step out of my own pain and hear and feel the grief of others. The group members are so appreciative to have a place to put their grief. Nick was so compassionate and caring, and each time someone is helped with our group, I know he is smiling down on me.


Val: It amazes me that you went straight to the Braintree Town Hall to ask about starting a support group. How did this happen?


Robyn: I knew a person who worked for the mayor, so I floated the idea of having a group at the town hall. Right away that person thought it was a great thing for our town to do. What a perfect way to say “no” to the stigma about the opioid crisis by having this group right at the Braintree Town Hall! After the group was going for a while, we had our first fundraiser for the foundation right there at the town hall. We have been lucky because not all communities have embraced the idea that substance use disorder can happen to anyone, and that we all need to work together to help prevent it.


Val: What was it like learning to be a group facilitator?


Robyn: I doubted myself very much at the beginning, but I received such great support from some of the facilitators. My doubts were erased very quickly. Figuring out the logistics, learning about facilitating, getting the word out so people in grief could find a tribe—all this kept my mind busy and kept me going in the early days.


Val: How is having a purpose contagious with other families affected by the opioid epidemic?


Robyn: I'm amazed how powerful it can be when people who are usually on the margins are given a voice. Grieving is hard enough, but on top of that, it’s a stigmatizing death, and it can cause people to focus inward and avoid dealing with day to day life. It can cause grievers to be left alone in their grief by friends and a community that doesn't know how to deal with loss. Being part of our community, a place where people are safe to explore their feelings no matter what, a place where we can share anger, confusion, sadness, hopelessness, guilt and not be judged is a powerful thing. Having someone there to say, "Me too, I've felt that way" can really make a huge difference in our lives. Once you know you aren't alone, that there are hundreds of people out there who have felt your pain and have survived-- not only survived but lived again after loss--can be an incredibly healing realization.


Here are some ways that support groups have helped to turn grief into action:


  • - People build new friendships.
  • - They advocate for change in their own towns.
  • - They work to change laws.
  • - They gather together in prevention activities.
  • - They support the newest members of the group.
  • - They find their voice again. I'm so glad the people who led the path before me gave me my voice, and that I have played some small part to help others find theirs.

    Val: Robyn, you have been so generous with your passion and wisdom. Thanks so very much for all you have done.


    Robyn: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk with the Health Story Collaborative.






    Val Walker, MS, is the author of The Art of Comforting: What to Say and Do for People in Distress (Penguin/Random House, 2010). Formerly a rehabilitation counselor for 20 years, she speaks, teaches and writes on how to offer comfort in times of loss, illness, and major life transitions. Keep up with Val at www.theArtofComforting.com.


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