Tag Archives: psychosis

The Hearing-Voices/Car-Driving Metaphor

A while ago I met a lady who had a fantastic way of describing and understanding her experience of auditory hallucinations/psychosis. It goes a bit like this:

My body’s a car. I’m the driver.

In the back seat are the voices. They’re like naughty kids, always chatting away amongst themselves. Often they’re taunting me. 

Usually I can just ignore them and get on with driving the car.

However, every now and then the voices get real loud.

It’s distracting. Driving becomes difficult and that’s when I’m most likely to drive badly or, if I’m unable to concentrate properly, I could even crash the car. 

It’s pretty scary, but I usually don’t have to come into hospital at that point. I just need more support to get control back, and maybe a change to my medication. 

The worst time for me is when the voices get so distracting that I can’t focus on driving at all. I turn to the voices in the back seat and try to get them to shut up. But they’re like naughty kids yelling and jumping around the car, and I can’t get them to stop. 

I take my seatbelt off and turn to face them, then somehow – I don’t even notice it happening – one of the voices will slip into the driver’s seat and take over control of driving the car.

Thats when it gets REALLY dangerous.

I’m not out of control – it’s worse than that – I have lost control entirely. I haven’t even got my hands on the steering wheel anymore, and I can’t reach the brakes. 

That’s when I need to come into hospital.

At the time I met this lady she was make a tentative recovery from one of these acute episodes of psychosis. On admission she had been experiencing command auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions, racing thoughts and suicidal ideation.

When we met the intensity of these symptoms was settling. The lady’s articulate insight helped us both communicate effectively when she had a relapse in symptoms. To keep her safe we needed to stop her from leaving the hospital, and provide an increased level of supervision/support. To get a shared understanding of this I was able to return to the lady’s metaphor:

I’m worried that you’re at risk of losing control of the car again. What I’m planning to do is take the keys away for now, and hand them back to you when you’re safe to drive again. 

That’s a good way to think about using the Mental Health Act – it’s a mechanism to decrease risk/stop people from a foreseeable crash if they’ve lost the capacity to drive. 

However, the real story here is about the intelligence, insight and articulate communication of a young woman who experiences symptoms of psychosis.

An impressive person, and a fantastic metaphor. 

Hopefully other people will be able to make use of this lady’s metaphor as a way to understand psychosis/hearing voices. 

car
End

Thanks for visiting. As always your comments/feedback is welcome below.

Paul McNamara, 20th February 2017.

Short URL: https://meta4RN.com/car

The Broken Leg/Psychosis Metaphor

Preamble

Below is a metaphor I heard in 1994 via an impressive man called Greg Holland. Greg is retired now, but when I met him he was a CNC with a public community mental health service. Even after all the years that have followed, Greg remains one of the most skilled communicators and mental health nurses I’ve ever worked with.

Greg was talking with a couple of young fellas who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Greg was explaining the importance of trying to avoid relapses of psychosis. The key messages for these young blokes was to keep taking the prescribed medications, and stay away from things that make psychosis more likely: things like cannabis, amphetamines or heaps of alcohol. That’s when Greg used this metaphor (his verbal version was shorter than my written version, but the general story is the same):

The Broken Leg/Psychosis Metaphor

If you accidentally broke your leg skateboarding or playing football, you’d have to have your leg in plaster for about 6 weeks. You would have to be really careful with it during that time, and it would probably get really uncomfortable and itchy most days. Then, if there were no complications, after 6 weeks you’d be able to get the plaster cast off, and start building up your strength in that broken leg. A physio might recommend some exercises, but you probably wouldn’t get back to playing football or skateboarding for a few months. Rehabilitation takes a bit of time and effort, but as a young fit man you’ll make a full recovery. No worries.

If you broke the same leg again, it might be more of a big deal. You might need surgery, and they might need to strengthen the bone with steel plates or rods and screws. Sometimes people need to have external fixation: metal devices that are screwed into the bones, but sit outside the body, above the skin to stabilise the fractures. It will be messier, more painful, take longer to get out of hospital, and your leg muscles will get pretty weak. You’ll probably make a full recovery still, but it will just take more time and effort.

If you break your leg a third time, the orthopaedic nurses and doctors are going to think you’re either really unlucky or stupidly reckless. They’ll suggest that you stop skateboarding and playing football altogether. Your leg will get operated on, and the fractures will get stabilised, but the recovery will be really slow. You could end-up with a bit of a limp.

If you keep on breaking the same leg over and over again, say five, six, seven times, you will definitely end up with a limp. Might need a walking stick or something.

If you break the same leg often enough and bad enough you’ll probably end up lame: permanently disabled and unable to walk. You’ll wish you’d listened to the orthopaedic nurses and doctors, and had never gone back to skateboarding or playing football.

It’s kind of the same with psychosis.

If you lose touch with reality once or twice you’ll probably make a full recovery.

But if you keep on having psychotic episodes your brain might develop a bit of a “limp” – it will still work, but not as good as it used to work.

If you have lots of psychotic episodes you might end up disabled and unable enjoy life to the fullest. You’ll wish you’d never gone back to smoking gunja or getting pissed.

That’s why I’m working with you to prevent or cut down on psychotic relapses. Does that make sense to you?

End

I really like the broken leg/psychosis metaphor. I use a shortened version of the above script a fair bit at work, and people usually respond well to it. I’m very grateful to Greg Holland for introducing the analogy to me. It’s a good metaphor that I hope that others will find useful to use/adapt in their clinical practice too.

As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 17th November 2016

Short URL: meta4RN.com/leg