Metaphor and the notion of control in trauma talk

Dennis Zhiming Tay, Jennifer Jordan

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Metaphor use in psychotherapy practice has been influenced by conceptual metaphor theory and the "internal target-external source" assumption, where targets comprise abstract therapeutic issues, while sources comprise concrete conceptual materials external to the therapeutic setting. The relevance of metaphor is hence questionable in trauma talk, since traumatic events involve intense bodily experiences which are already concrete and do not require any external inferential support. We examine transcripts of semi-structured interviews with 14 subjects following the 2010-2012 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, focusing on the role of metaphor in their conceptualization of a sense of "control" over their immediate physical environment, and more abstract aspects of their lives in the earthquakes' aftermath. We discuss four discursive patterns which show how speakers used metaphor as a mechanism to extend or refocus initial discussion of physical control, to subsequent discussion of abstract control. This suggests that metaphor goes beyond a conceptualization role to play a "scaffolding" role in trauma talk, where an initial target topic may serve as a source concept for a subsequent target topic. Therapists therefore do not necessarily have to "look externally" for productive source domains, but could capitalize upon conceptual materials which present themselves as therapeutic interaction unfolds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)553-573
Number of pages21
JournalText and Talk
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015


  • control
  • metaphor
  • psychotherapeutic counseling
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language

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