Transforming Mental Health Care with Cultural Narratives and Metaphors

In an influential paper, Laurence Kirmayer explores how cultural narratives and metaphors shape our experience of mental health and recovery.

This article by Justin Karter has been published in Mad in America. It begins:

“In a groundbreaking academic article, Laurence J. Kirmayer, a leader in the field of cultural psychiatry from McGill University’s Division of Social & Transcultural Psychiatry, calls for a fundamental shift in how we understand mental health.

His paper, ‘Cultural Poetics of Illness and Healing,’ advocates for an approach deeply rooted in the psychological humanities, exploring the complex interplay between language, metaphor, and the healing process:

Our own self-understanding through metaphors and narrative constructions plays a key role both in internal regulation and in engagement with our social environments, which are largely constituted by ongoing interactions with others. The language we have available to articulate and express our experience changes the very nature of that experience. This is the case even for seemingly obdurate experiences of pain and suffering, no less than for the stories we borrow or invent to carry on our lives and project ourselves into new and better circumstances,’ Kirmayer writes.

‘The implication is that an adequate picture of the emergence of illness experience and its transformation through healing practices must lay bare the embodied processes of imagination as well as the social processes of self-construal and positioning through pragmatic, material, and discursive engagements with the cultural affordances that constitute our local worlds and niches. While much of this process of meaning-making is organized by and communicated through narratives, metaphors play a central role in efforts to make sense of symptoms and suffering for both patients and healers.’ …”

You can read more from here.

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