Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Michael E. Levin


Michael E. Levin


Michael P. Twohig


JoAnn T. Tschanz


Tyler Levefor


Karen F. Muñoz


Mental health treatments can be delivered in many ways. One approach is to use storytelling to communicate healthy practices. While societies across the world have engaged in storytelling for thousands of years, these practices have been used less in the mental health field. The aim of this project was to study the overlap between the areas of mental health and storytelling. We also tested how a storytelling-based mental health treatment could help solve a particular clinical problem. In this case, the problem of people who receive inadequate help for managing depression through medication alone.

We examined one particular mental health intervention, called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and its overlap with basic principles of storytelling. The central goal of ACT is to live more fully according to one’s personal values even in the presence of emotional suffering. We explain technically how reading, hearing, or seeing engaging stories could support this goal. We also describe ways that therapists who use ACT with their patients can draw from these storytelling-based principles.

The second part of this project was a specific test of what happens when ACT and storytelling are combined in a mental health treatment. LifeStories is an online mental health program that teaches ACT-based skills for managing depression through the use of personal narrative videos of other patients who have developed effective ways of coping. We tested LifeStories with a group of primary care patients who were prescribed vi antidepressant medication but were not receiving other mental health support. Half of these patients used the LifeStories program for four weeks in addition to taking their medication, while the other half only took medication.

We found that patients who used LifeStories had greater increases in quality of life compared to those only taking medication. These patients also became more interested in continuing mental health treatment after the program ended. In both groups of patients, depression severity decreased at the same rate, as did psychological inflexibility. Overall, our study showed that a brief storytelling intervention can improve quality of life and promote interest in seeking further mental health support for primary care patients.



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Psychology Commons