Effective communication with patients and their family members forms the foundation of a therapeutic relationship. This is particularly important when the occupational therapist, other health professionals, and the patient are from different cultural backgrounds. This paper describes one aspect of the findings of a ethnographic study of chronic diabetes among the Navajo people (referred to here as Dine’). It focuses on the dominant metaphorical images that were used by the informants to describe their illness experiences. The data suggest that diabetes can be considered a metaphor for larger social changes in the life-style and traditions (e.g., away from sheepherding as a means of basic subsistence to obtaining urban-centered employment) of native Americans and their effects on the Dine’. Implications of our findings include the importance of metaphorical communication for perceptions of compliance, powerlessness, and patient and therapist satisfaction with the therapeutic relationship.

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