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August 2019

Cult Med Psychiatry. 1993 Jun; 17(2): 161-95.

Healing and the invention of metaphor: the effectiveness of symbols revisited.

Kirmayer LJ.

Division of Social & Transcultural Psychiatry McGill University, Montréal, Québec.

In this essay, I argue that a theory of meaning adequate to account for the effectiveness of symbolic healing and psychotherapy requires some variant of the three concepts of myth, metaphor and archetype. Myth stands for the overarching narrative structures of the self produced and lent authority by cultural tradition. Archetype stands not for performed ideas or images, but for the bodily-given in meaning. Metaphor occupies an intermediate realm, linking narrative and bodily-given experience through imaginative constructions and enactments that allow movement in sensory-affective quality space. This pluralistic perspective itself constitutes a middle-ground between constructivist and realist approaches to meaning that can integrate causal and interpretive models of symbolic healing.


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