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PROactive Management of Integrated

Services & Environments



Sep Hafizi

Consultant Psychiatrist, CPFT

Dr Sepehr Hafizi is a Consultant Psychiatrist at Fulbourn Hospital and an Associate Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. He has a DPhil in Neuroscience from the University of Oxford and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. His interests include psychopharmacology, medical education and medical humanities.

Hisham Ziauddeen

Clinical Senior Research Associate, Consultant Psychiatrist, CPFT

PROMISE Productions

Who’s Afraid of a little Metaphor?

Nobody within the PROMISE project is afraid of either Virginia Woolf or a little metaphor, indeed Virginia Woolf is regarded as an inspiration to large parts of the project. She was a highly celebrated author of the early 20th century era and a master at using literary metaphors to convey her message to readers. She published her first novel The Voyage Out in 1915. This early novel expressed a nautical theme as did a couple of her later novels: To the Lighthouse (1927) and The Waves (1931). She appears to have suffered from a manic-depressive type of illness and from a young age had a strangely obsessive relationship with water. Unfortunately she committed suicide by drowning in 1941. Some of her other works concern issues relating to war and its brutal effects on the human psyche such as in her famous novel Mrs Dalloway (1925) or to gender such as in the essay A Room of One’s Own (1929). In another essay titled On Being Ill (1930) she suggested that unlike love or war, literature had not really taken the human experience of illness as a serious subject. Within PROMISE we take both metaphor and illness as serious subjects and use the former as a powerful tool to help everyone understand the latter but with an emphasis on the notion of recovery.

Reading Virginia Woolf has helped me to tap into my own creativity and write a series of flash fiction stories. In contrast to case studies these are more palatable to the non-clinician. Some of the themes that I have covered relate to topics such as bipolar disorder, self-harm, catatonia and post-traumatic stress disorder. Beyond using metaphors in relation to diagnoses or disorders, metaphors can also be used to describe human values and virtues. Today I read out my short narrative entitled Together (2015). Here I have used the metaphor of a tree to describe the notions of interconnectedness and interdependence. This narrative was inspired by a trip to Japan in 2014 and by reading Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha (1997). The very last page of this novel uses the metaphor of a leaf to describe a life, whilst in Together I use the metaphor of a tree to describe the connectedness of lives.

This paper proposes that there is no need for anyone to be afraid of a metaphor and that metaphor is one of the many creative tools that we can use on our journey towards more humane mental healthcare.