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Laurel Braitman | Bestselling author of Animal Madness and What Looks Like Bravery | Director of Writing and Storytelling at the Stanford School of Medicine
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Our stories don’t just give us the power to communicate—they give us the power to heal. New York Times bestselling author and Stanford professor Laurel Braitman is a driving force in bridging the gap between storytelling and the medical world. She works with doctors and medical students—who, like many other frontline workers, are facing record levels of burnout—and proves that the simple act of telling our own stories can help build community, improve mental health, and equip us with the communication skills we need to make a real difference for those around us. “No matter what profession we choose,” Laurel says, “we can make meaning, find beauty in the hard stuff, and create.” 

“[Laurel Braitman] has the rare gift of being able to combine ideas, research and personal experience into a compelling narrative.”

— Amitav Ghosh, award-winning author of Sea of Poppies

Laurel Braitman is the Director of Writing and Storytelling at the Stanford School of Medicine, as well as the New York Times bestselling author of Animal Madness and the forthcoming book What Looks Like Bravery. In the Medicine and the Muse program at Stanford, she works with medical students and professionals to reintroduce the power of storytelling to the healthcare field. She’s seen firsthand how telling your own story—“flying your flag”—can relieve stress, avert burnout, strengthen resilience, and empower you to build connections based on authenticity and vulnerability. In her workshops, she teaches doctors and frontline workers writing skills that they use to make meaning and find beauty even in the toughest moments of their careers. The practical skills and lessons she teaches enable us to develop better mental health, heal ourselves and one another, and build communities that rally together with compassion and authenticity.


Laurel’s upcoming memoir What Looks Like Bravery is a powerful look at how unexamined grief can persist over decades. Through the lens of her own life, and a childhood spent worrying about her father with cancer, Laurel sensitively and honestly explores how confronting our grief can help us live the life we really want, and how the pain of loss can transform us into the people we want to become.


Her previous book, the New York Times bestseller Animal Madness, is a “lovely, big-hearted book” (The New York Times) investigating mental illness in the animal kingdom—from anxious dogs to depressed bears. Susan Orlean, bestselling author of The Orchid Thief, calls it “a marvelous, smart, eloquent book—as much about human emotion as it is about animals and their inner lives.”


Laurel holds a PhD in Science, Technology and Society from MIT, and is a Senior TED Fellow. She’s the founder of Writing Medicine, a global community of writing healthcare professionals. Her work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Good Morning America, and Al Jazeera. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, on Radiolab, in The Wall Street Journal, WIRED, and National Geographic, among others. She’s worked in Alaska studying grizzly bears, made coffee for the Hell’s Angels, taught backpacking, and volunteered with grieving kids. Laurel splits her time between the remote Alaskan wilderness and her family’s citrus and avocado ranch in Southern California. 


“Laurel’s discussion had us pause and reflect on the underlying emotional, intellectual, and generally human (let’s say animal) issues we face in our lives; the engagement was deep and even moving, and—most important—lasting.”

Vintus Wines

Speech Topics

Mental Health
Medicine and the Muse The Power of Storytelling on Mental Health
Storytelling is often thought to be the domain of the arts, not the science, but Laurel Braitman—New York Times bestselling author and Stanford professor—says storytelling has huge benefits for everyone. She’s seen firsthand how anxious and isolated students become healthier and more resilient through the power of communication, building up communities and connections through the simple yet radical act of telling their own stories. Learning better storytelling and communication skills will enable us all to harness our creativity, make meaning in our work, and find beauty in the difficult things. 

In the workshops she runs with medical students, doctors, and frontline workers, Laurel encourages participants to reflect and write as a way to heal themselves so they can heal others. With practical strategies, firsthand experience, and genuine care for her audience, she equips us with the tools we need to face any challenge, overcome difficulties, and envision a better future.  
Mental Health
What Looks Like Bravery How Loss and Grief Transform Us for the Better
Laurel Braitman’s life on her family’s citrus and avocado farm was idyllic, until her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. From age three to seventeen, Laurel suppressed her fear of loss and clung to her father’s conviction that denying pain was a sign of bravery. In the years after his death, Laurel—now a Stanford professor and New York Times bestselling author—found that her external success hid a messy truth: denying her suffering and living with the fear of loss had left her terrified of love. 

She embarked on a journey to confront the grief she’d been avoiding for so long. Along the way, she learned that it’s never too late to face what scares us most—and that loss can transform us into the people we want to become. In this talk based on her forthcoming memoir What Looks Like Bravery, Laurel shows us the revolutionary power of grief, teaching us to work through it and harness it to live the life we want. 
Animal Madness What the Animal Kingdom Teaches Us About Mental Health and Recovery

Stanford professor Laurel Braitman spent years studying animals as an anthropologist and historian, but it was her own dog Oliver that taught her something new about animal behavior. Oliver suffered debilitating separation anxiety, was prone to aggression, and may even have attempted suicide. Through caring for him, Laurel learned that animals both suffer and heal like we do: with love, medicine, therapy, and understanding. 

Drawing on her bestselling book Animal Madness, Laurel teaches us the lessons she learned from her trips around the world and into the minds of our animal companions, from depressed dogs to anxious elephants. She shows how we’re not so different from them after all—playing, spending time in nature, and learning new skills are deeply important for humans and animals alike. This talk is a call for a deeper sense of empathy—one that will have untold rewards for all life on earth.