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Stories help us frame and understand complex ideas and challenges. Metaphors are particularly powerful linguistic devices that guide and extend our thinking by bridging conceptual domains, for example to consider the brain as a digital computer. Trees are widely used as metaphors for broad concepts like evolution, history, society, and even life itself, i.e. ‘the tree of life’. Tree-like diagrams of roots and branches are used to demonstrate historical and cultural relationships, for example, between different species or different languages. In this paper, we describe a theatrical character called a tree doctor which is a living metaphor. A human being, namely the author, lectures, acts or dances as a tree and offers lessons to Homo Sapiens about ‘holistic’ ideas of health. The character teaches us to not only see the value of our relationships to trees, but the importance of seeing forests as well the individual trees. The metaphorical statement that we should not ‘miss the forest for the trees’ means we should learn to think of health embedded in systems and communities. In medicine, we too often focus on individual molecules, pharmaceuticals, or even patients and miss the bigger picture of public and environmental health. In a time of great ecological system change, the tree doctor points to broad ethical responsibility for each other and future generations of humans and other living creatures. The character embraces arts and particularly music as a powerful way of infusing purpose and improving the qualities of our lives together, especially as we age. The tree doctor knows the value of intergenerational relationships. But it also points to intergenerative innovations across many cultural domains, disciplines and professions. The tree doctor supports primary care and empowers the value of intergenerational relationships, art and music in the recommendations doctors make to patients to improve their health and well-being.


arts, ecology, metaphor, narrative, public health

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London Journal of Primary Care





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Spitz Family; Shigeo and Megumi Takayama Foundation; National Institutes of Health (NIH)

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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