Coyote Wisdom: The Power of Story in Healing by Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona

This is a remarkable book, full of inspiration and hope. Lewis Mehl-Madrona is a master storyteller himself, and in Coyote Wisdom we see the full range of his talents. This is the third book in which the author merges his own and other Native American methods of healing with contemporary Western medicine. The first two, Coyote Medicine and Coyote Healing, were great — this one is even better.

This book explores all kinds of stories — those that we tell about ourselves, and those that we hear from others. The author, a psychiatrist by background, makes the case that hearing and telling stories is integral to healing. If we are sick, then the story that we tell about our illness may contain clues for what went wrong, or what got “out of balance” in our relationships. This could be one’s relationship to his or herself, to the family, to the community, even to the world.

In turn, hearing the correct story can inspire the ill person to look inside for the right method to heal, or perhaps even to believe that healing is possible if there has been no hope. According to Mehl-Madrona, stories contain the hidden blueprints for transformation, a kind of secret code for how to restore the balance in relationships. By choosing the correct story to tell a patient, he offers guidance and a vision of how that person can change his or her own story.

This use of stories in healing is called “narrative medicine” or “narrative psychology,” and it incorporates much of the shamanic wisdom and attitudes about illness that are so different from the more constrictive Western biological model. This is not to say that the biology is ignored — instead, Mehl-Madrona posits that there is no biology without context. In this manner, changing the story that we tell about ourselves is more important than it may sound initially. To put it simply, when we change our story, we change our mood — and when we change our mood, we change our brain. Thus, physiological changes follow from an altered perspective — a changed story. Once you have physiological changes than anything is possible, including “miraculous” or “spontaneous” cures. With this model, our stories have a biological effect, not the other way around.

This is not a book of stories, although there are examples. You can tell you’re in the hands of a master storyteller as Mehl-Madrona slows and shifts the pace of the book for each. The stories themselves are wonderfully told and draw from a surprising range of cultures, both ancient and modern.

But more important is how the author chooses the correct story for healing, and that is what Coyote Wisdom focuses on. Mehl-Madrona raises several important points — not only must the story be inspirational and contain the clues for healing, but it must be one that the patient can identify with and that he or she can make their own in order to transform. Once the patient is transforming themselves and their story, then it is important that the community around them support this new story as well. This importance of community is key — as the author says, stories are the glue that binds families, groups, communities, and even nations together.

According to the author, we each contain our own hidden wisdom for how to change or heal, but it is the healer’s job to pull that knowledge out. The right story challenges our hidden assumptions, (that change is not possible, or that there is no way out or only one way out), by presenting us with new possibilities. Mehl-Madrona says that stories are alchemy — if we hear enough stories about transformation then we can’t help but transform. This is powerful stuff, as is the idea that biology follows context — and Coyote Wisdom is a beautiful and powerful book.

A Podcast Interview With Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona and Merlian News

For more information, visit Dr.Lewis Mehl-Madrona’s website at

by Cheryl Shainmark
Dr.Lewis Mehl-Madrona holds an M.D. from Stanford University and has been a practicing doctor for over 20 years. An experienced physician who has been involved in many Native American healing ceremonies, Mehl-Madrona has also headed traditional medical clinics, helping AIDS and cancer patients as well as researching the benefits of relaxation techniques to aid in the natural correction of breech positioned babies.