War and travel metaphors to describe mentality

These conclusions have implications not only for understanding the disease, but also for improving communication with patients. “Having the insights a very significant potential to transform the way we approach public and professional discourse on mental health and even treatments or therapies. Encouraging the positive use of these metaphors and reconverting or eliminating the negative ones; i.e. those that have a disempowering effect or convey negative emotions such as feelings of despair, fear or vulnerability can be very useful,” said Marta Coll-Florit and Salvador Climent Roca, members of the GRIAL group at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the UOC .

Key metaphors in mental health narratives

The study based on the analysis of about a million words included in the personal blogs of 73 patients diagnosed with one of the four most common severe mental disorders – depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder – and 22 professionals from the fields of psychiatry, psychology, nursing and social education. All in all, 3,204 War and Travel Metaphors were identified in the corpus. “All kinds of conflicts express themselves as wars or fights, with negative aspects presented as enemies. Likewise, many long and costly processes express themselves as pathways, hurdles, steps forward, steps back, progress, and so on. Since mental illness is closely related to personal and social conflict, as well as to the process involved (e.g. the process of recovery), we were certain that these two metaphors would be similarly very important in narratives related to mental health” , according to the researchers .

A way for patients to express their innermost feelings

From a quantitative point of view, the study also found that these metaphors are used more often by people with a mental illness themselves than by mental health professionals. According to the researchers, “this supports the hypothesis that metaphors are used in this context to express complex and emotionally intense experiences.”

This ability to gather information about patients’ intimate experiences also confirms the effectiveness of the method used in the study (the identification of conceptual metaphors in mental health discourses) for understanding diseases of this type. “The study clearly shows that this analysis method is very systematic and very useful when it comes to Disclosing the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of people suffering from mental disorders and mental health professionals. In other words, knowing what metaphors are most prevalent in narratives about mental health disorders provides better insight into what patients are really thinking, feeling and experiencingwhich allows us to better understand their condition,” the researchers said.

Affect, empowerment and positive emotions

Of the aspects of mental health discourse that can have a positive impact on patients, the researchers pointed out the importance of “convey a sense of agency and control over the experience (which together define empowerment), as well as convey positive emotions such as pride or a sense of achievement.” An example of such positive use mentioned in the study is mental disorders “regard as travel companions, a kind of metaphor that shows acceptance and can have a positive impact on the patient’s experience of their disorder”.

War metaphors are not necessarily negative

One of the results that the researchers found most surprising is that both types of metaphors are associated with both positive and negative uses. “One might assume that war metaphors are inherently negative because they convey the idea of ​​conflict, and that travel metaphors are positive because they are about progress, but this is not the case. War metaphors are often about fighting spiritwith agency and empowerment, which can increase patients’ self-esteem and have a positive impact on their experience,” they explained.

In any case, the researchers also mentioned that the same topic can be discussed with different metaphors, which can have positive effects depending on the goal of the communication. “Like talking Fight your fears (an enemy) is not the same as talking about it Overcome your fears one step at a time (an obstacle on the way). The former expression underscores the patient’s fighting spirit, while the latter conveys a degree of control, with the experience presented as a process of gradual improvement,” they said.

“The difference is that war metaphors can be useful in situations that require action and energy, while travel-related metaphors can be used to suggest an ongoing plan of action with a more restrained use of energy.”

A tool for therapists

This detailed analysis of metaphors and their meanings could also help medical professionals in their therapy strategies. “Appropriate use of metaphors is a tool that can facilitate communication between patient and psychotherapist and provide the latter with a tool to use in therapy sessions,” they said. Against this background, the researchers created a metaphor repository – Diccionario de metaforas de la salud mental – which is now available online.

This UOC study supports the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3, Good health and well-being; and 10, Reduced inequalities.

reference paper

Coll-Florit, M & S Climent (2022). “Enemies or Obstacles? Metaphors of War and Journey in Mental Health Discourse”, Metaphor and the social world. Online First Article (31 May 2022). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/msw.21035.col.


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