Metaphor in health communication

Academic interest in metaphor in health communication was initiated by Sontag (1979) who argued that cancer was typically construed in terms of war. Subsequent work has highlighted conventional metaphors in patients’ descriptions of cancer experiences, such as the ‘martial’ and ‘journey’ metaphors described by Reisfeld and Wilson (2004).

This raises questions relating to real life use of metaphor in language use related to health that are being addressed by this project, namely:

  1. What is the role of metaphor in psychotherapy and in describing depression? (Burns 2007, Charteris-Black 2012, Tay 2013)
  2. What are the characteristics of the use of metaphor by people experiencing chronic pain? (See Charteris-Black 2014 forthcoming)

Research into metaphor in illnesses may offer findings of benefit to those who are interested in language use in the diagnosis of conditions, and therapies in areas such as pain management and psychotherapy.

Burns, W. (ed.) (2007) Healing with Stories. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Charteris-Black, J. (2012) ‘Shattering the bell jar: Metaphor, gender and depression’. Metaphor & Symbol (27(3): 199-216.

Charteris-Black J.  (Forthcoming 2014). The ‘dull roar’ and the ‘burning barbed wire pantyhose’: Complex Metaphor in Accounts of Chronic Pain. In R Gibbs (ed.) Mixed Metaphor. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Reisfeld, G. M. and G. R. Wilson (2004) Use of metaphor in the discourse on cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology 22: 4024-4027.

Sontag (1979) Illness as Metaphor. London: Allen House.

Tay 2013 Metaphor in Psychotherapy. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

For related research, please see the Metaphor in Health Communication workshop pages.

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