BBC Radio 4 broadcast a really interesting programme this week entitled Metaphor for Healing. I don’t think you’ll be able to listen to it (unless it’s still on the BBC iPlayer) but they’ve put up a good page about it on the bbc website. There’s obviously a link between issues of metaphor and those of visualisation. In fact, in some ways metaphors are tools for visualisation aren’t they? The programme talked a bit about Jan Alcoe, who used visualisation to both cope with both her disease and her treatment. It’s not hard to think that every patient should have a session about this before undergoing chemo and radiotherapy. I’ve read a lot about visualisation in cancer settings before so although her story is a particularly impressive one, it didn’t tell me anything really new. However, the rest of the programme was about the conscious use of metaphor in consultations, and I’ve not heard that discussed so clearly before.
Dr Grahame Brown, a musculo-skeletal specialist at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham, claims he is able to save hundreds of patients from the need to have spinal surgery every year simply by “reframing the negative metaphors that have been unwittingly used by their doctors that can lead to a destructive and self-fulfilling cycle”. Many of the patients he sees have been referred for surgery after becoming convinced their spine is ‘crumbling’ or that they have ‘degenerating’ disc disease, when in fact they have a prolapsed disc or other normal wear and tear that is common in most people. Yet anxious patients latch on to these suggestions and become convinced that things are only going to get worse.
Now this really is fascinating. By becoming aware of the metaphors used by the patient (typically those given to them by other doctors) which make it harder for a patient to break free from chronic pain, then giving them different metaphors, he helps them change the way they think about, perceive, and, ultimately, experience their pain. He claims that this can have such a dramatic, quick effect, that many escape not only the need for surgery, but also escape from their pain.
It’s an impressive outcome.
There is specific mention of two techniques, or approaches, based on metaphor, used by people in this programme – the Human Givens method, which is a fascinating counseling technique, and the Clean Language approach, which is based on a technique developed by a practitioner inspired by “Metaphors we live by” written by Lakoff and Johnson, one of the books which have changed the way I think about the world. Fascinating to see these ideas turn into practice.