Intended for healthcare professionals


Cecil Helman

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 22 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2904
  1. Joe Rosenthal,
  2. Surinder Singh

    General practitioner, author, and leading proponent of medical anthropology

    “The art of medicine is a literary art. One that requires of the practitioner the ability to listen in a particular way, to empathise, but also to imagine. To try to feel what it must be like to be that other person lying in the sick bed, or sitting across the desk from you. To try to understand the storyteller, as well as the story.” These were some of the words written for the Lancet in 2003 of Cecil Helman, general practitioner, medical anthropologist, author and poet, who died recently at the age of 65 (2003;361:2252, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(03)13764-6).

    As a result of his teaching, writing, and research Helman became widely regarded as one of the founders of the discipline of medical anthropology, the cross cultural study of health, illness, and medical care. His book, Culture, Health, and Illness, first published in 1984, went to five editions and remains the standard text in this field. It was in this book that he described what became know as Helman’s folk model of health and illness, though he had started to develop the idea earlier in his paper “Feed a cold, starve a fever” (Medicine and Psychiatry 1978;2:107-37, doi:10.1007/BF00054580). The model uses a narrative approach to …

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