Therapeutic Communication in Mental Health Nursing: Aesthetic and Metaphoric Processes in the Engagement with Challenging Patients (Routledge, 2017) is a recent publication by a BPSI Fellowship student, Shira Birnbaum, PhD, who is a professor of Education and a psychiatric nurse. Drawing on current writing in cognitive linguistics, philosophy, literary theory, art, music, and child development, the book explores connections between nursing and contemporary theories of metaphor and figurability. The author argues that for some patients who do not respond to conventional language-based treatment approaches, non-verbal means can be found to make contact. Art, music, and movement enable metaphoric configurations to be created which function as ad hoc, transitional representations for ideas that are not ready to be captured in words. A kind of body-based dialect, they open shared spaces where a tentative exchange of meanings can begin. Shira calls these transitional configurations “gestural bridges” and suggests they are an innate human communicative capacity rooted in the non-verbal, pre-linguistic dialogic exchanges of early infancy. Writing from the point of view of an artist and educator, she gives clinical examples from her work in long-term inpatient settings. The book offers an interdisciplinary understanding of how games and physical activities can serve as communication gateways, activating narrative and observational agency and enabling an exchange of meaning to begin at a time when conventional language is not available.

This publication was awarded first place in the 2017 American Journal of Nursing (AJN) Book of the Year Awards in Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. It is available in the BPSI library.

About the Author: Shira Birnbaum is a nurse, educator, ethnographer, and visual artist. She graduated from Barnard College and teaches in the PhD program in Health Professions Education at Simmons University College of Natural, Behavioral, and Health Sciences.