Tell me a story: A metaphor for understanding analogies

Start here, with this TEDtalk-

I like to use a story or analogy to explain things to patients.  It helps me come into their world and attempt to contact them on their own turf.

It’s not that patient’s are dumb, and can’t understand concepts or facts and figures. Stories are just a great way of conveying information. Adriaan Louw points out that when we are little children we have stories read to us (Aesop’s Fables and the like) that illustrate points, morals and teach concepts. You listened to the story and you got the point to that story, so it starts very young.

When you are on a cruise or on a bus or meeting people for the first time at a restaurant, why do you tell stories? You don’t just list off characteristics about yourself, no no no.  You tell a story, you don’t break down a bullet point list of things, likes/dislikes… you tell a story and other people grab inferences and understanding about you from the tales. Telling it in a story is how humans want to hear things.  It’s how we digest it, take abstract thoughts and put them in places of understanding.

This is similar to wanting to experience something vs. just hear about it.  Implicit vs explicit memory, if you will. That experience is better than reading something in a book, because experience is living a story.  You learn in a different way and it’s more impactful and longer lasting. And that’s the same with patients.

Now I hear clinicians talk about “Releasing this” and “Activating that” and, boy those things are just fallacies… unless they are simply metaphors or analogies to help with understanding.  (it is likely that neither the patient nor clinician knows what is actually happening, so everyone could use a little metaphor!)

There are certainly other ways to help convey ideas during interaction and patient education (such as the Rhyme as Reason effect), but stories are often all you need to make a connection.

Some good resources are below:

Dr. Robert Sapolsky – This is your brain on metaphors

Michael Chorost – Your brain on metaphors

Mike Stewart (on PhysioMatters Podcast) – Metaphoric Expression

Dr. Lorimer Moseley – Painful Yarns and Explain Pain

PTBT posts Hey, where is that pain from?,   Your Hyper-Vigilant SWAT team,   Understanding parts of the whole,   The central sensitization wind-up,   Active vs Passive treatment,   The goose vs the gander – case report vs systematic review,

This stuff works.  It is born out in research that explaining pain helps reduce the pain, if it can be understood. Heck, Mirror Therapy is the ultimate analogy to the brain when treating a person with CVA!

So try to make it make sense to your audience, tell them in a context they are familiar with.  The ideas will have a better chance of sticking and we will all learn something.

Matt D

(Yes there is a difference between metaphor, analogy and simile! I know I mix them around- please understand the point of my post)

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4 thoughts on “Tell me a story: A metaphor for understanding analogies

  1. Pingback: A Year in Review | PTbraintrust

  2. Pingback: Peri-pain Education | PTbraintrust

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