Thinking with Metaphors in Medicine : The State of the Art book cover
1st Edition

Thinking with Metaphors in Medicine
The State of the Art

ISBN 9780367224394
Published May 7, 2019 by Routledge
270 Pages

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Book Description

While medical language is soaked in metaphor, and thinking with metaphor is central to diagnostic work, medicine – that is, medical culture, clinical practice and medical education – outwardly rejects metaphor for objective, literal scientific language. This thought-provoking book argues that this is a misstep, and critically considers what embracing the use of metaphors and similes might mean for shaping medical culture, and especially the doctor–patient relationship, in a healthy way.


Thinking With Metaphors in Medicine explores:

  • how metaphors inhabit medicine – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse – and how these metaphors can be revealed, appreciated and understood;
  • how diagnostic work utilizes thinking with metaphors;
  • how patient–doctor communication can be better understood and enhanced as a metaphorical exchange;
  • how the landscape of medicine is historically shaped by leading or didactic metaphors, such as ‘the body as machine’ and ‘medicine as war’, which may conflict with other values or perspectives on healthcare, for instance, person-centred care.


Outlining the kinds of metaphors and resemblances that inhabit medicine and how they shape practices and identities of doctors, colleagues and patients, this book demonstrates how the landscape of medicine may be reshaped through metaphor shift. It is an important work for all those interested in the use of language and rhetoric in medicine, whether hailing from a humanities, social science or healthcare background.

Table of Contents


Shane Neilson: Carrying the Day: Medical Metaphors as Disciplinary Self-Improvement Instruments

Jeffery Donaldson: The patient poem

Preface: forewarned

Chapter 1: The recovery of metaphor in medicine

Chapter 2: Metaphors, once down and out, make a comeback

Chapter 3: What do we know about metaphors in medicine and what are the consequences of resisting metaphor?

Chapter 4: ‘Medicine as war’ and other didactic metaphors

Chapter 5: Medical metaphors as resemblances: putting aesthetics to work

Chapter 6: Functions of resemblances in medicine: ‘food for thought’

Chapter 7: Metaphors in psychiatry: the embodied mind at its limits

Chapter 8: Metaphors in medical education: the pedagogic imagination

Chapter 9: Poetry, metaphor and the medical imagination

Chapter 10: ‘Thinking with metaphors in medicine: the state of the art’ part I: the odyssey

Chapter 11: ‘Thinking with metaphors in medicine: the state of the art’ part II: the tournament joust



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Alan Bleakley is Emeritus Professor at the University of Plymouth’s Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry, UK.