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Speaking in pictures

By Hayley Leake Metaphor and language 06 Jun 2016



Pain is difficult to describe. Sometimes even the most colourful language and vivid story seems insufficient. When words offer barriers, pictures can be used to convey complex ideas, thoughts and experiences. Expressing an individual narrative of pain through art offers a salient, descriptive way to communicate.


Illustrating a pain experience is not altogether unfamiliar for most therapists. We create simplified depictions with black and white body charts: shading, criss-crossing, dotting and ticking. I wonder how many patients consider those images a sufficient portrayal of their experience. Perhaps self-created images offer an opportunity to open new dialogues to better understand and empathise.


Communicating Chronic Pain is a UK based research project exploring this gap between the experience and expression of chronic pain. They’ve collated a whole bunch of non-verbal pain metaphors – it’s well worth taking a look, perhaps even adding your own!


– Hayley Leake





We’re hitting the road and taking our NOI courses right across this great southern land:

Noosa 17 – 19 June Explain Pain and Graded Motor Imagery (Both courses SOLD OUT)

Wagga Wagga 16-17 July Explain Pain

Perth 15 – 17 October Explain Pain and Graded Motor Imagery


EP3 events have sold out three years running in Australia, and we are super excited to be bringing this unique format to the United States in late 2016 with Lorimer Moseley, Mark Jensen, David Butler, and few NOI surprises.

EP3 EAST Philadelphia, December 2, 3, 4 2016

EP3 WEST Seattle, December 9, 10, 11 2016

To register your interest, contact NOI USA:

p (610) 664-4465



  1. As someone who lives with chronic pain on a daily basis I find this very interesting. People look at you not knowing what you are going through in your life and how difficult it is just to do the simple things. Walking, standing for any length of time, sitting etc. it would be useful to be able to communicate how the pain I live with translates, other than trying to verbalise how I feel to someone. – Barry Ruxton

  2. This is amazing. Over the years, many times I have heard patients say “I can’t describe it”; “this sounds weird”; you won’t understand what I am trying to say” …. All platforms of expression are necessary to in some way express and capture the true complexity and essence of an individuals pain experience. The art work is mighty powerful and the many thoughts that arise when viewing each one somehow mirrors the multiple dimensions begging to be expressed in the limited space verbalisation offers.

  3. davidbutler0noi

    Hi Hayley,

    Thanks for linking us to this great gallery. It really gives pain a voice and a literacy to the sufferer. And for some sufferers perhaps a “oh there are other sufferers like me”. The art makes the connection, words may not.


  4. stevewhereareyou

    Thank you so much for posting this amazing collection. The virtual exhibit adds such a rich context to help providers understand a bit more about the impact of pain on people’s lives and those with chronic pain to recognize in others a shared experience. Another gallery is at
    Again, thanks for the post!

    – Steve

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