Metaphor and the politics and poetics of youth distress in an evidence-based psychotherapy

Rebecca Seligman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the relationship between metaphors and emotion in the context of adolescent distress and psychotherapeutic treatment. Drawing on data from an ethnographic study of Mexican American adolescents receiving outpatient treatment for a variety of emotional and behavioral problems, the article examines what I call “prescribed” metaphors deployed in mainstream, manualized child and adolescent Cognitive Behavioral Therapies commonly used in mainstream clinical contexts. I explore the models of emotion communicated to youth by one such metaphor, youth responses to this metaphor, and the potential implications for young people as they take up the underlying models and affective practices embedded in the metaphor. Specifically, I examine how youth respond to messages about emotion metacognition and emotion regulation embedded in a metaphor that equates feelings with temperatures that can be monitored and objectively measured. I find that youth are at once convinced that abstract knowledge about internal states is inherently valuable because it is linked to desired forms of personhood, but also concerned about the limits of technical metaphors to capture aspects of lived experience and the flattening and homogenization of affect that might accompany the practices such metaphors help to enact. I analyze alternative interpretations of prescribed metaphors as well as the spontaneous metaphors used by youth to talk about their emotions and experiences of distress, in an effort to think through the politics and poetics of emotion metaphors in the context of an evidence-based psychotherapy for young people.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Journaltranscultural psychiatry
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Depression
  • embodiment
  • emotion
  • mental health
  • metaphor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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