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Phil Barker

Dr. Phil Barker, his wife Poppy Buchanan-Barker and several of their colleagues created the Tidal Wave Model to promote mental health. It is a revolutionary theory that relies heavily on metaphors that are used to empower people and uses each person's experiences and wisdom to effect change. Since 2000, the theory has been used in the United Kingdom and in many other international settings.

Early Life

Phil Barker and his wife and colleague, Poppy, grew up in small towns outside of Scotland in the 1950s. They both came from modest backgrounds. He describes his parents as hard working, morally conscious people who had very little in material goods but felt that work, love and laughter were important. He feels that his childhood was the golden age that influenced the rest of his life. Poppy's father, John Buchanan, was a coal miner who taught her to love nature and instilled in her the values of myth and legend that gave her strength of character. His death from the hazards of coal dust taught her that life is a mixture of light and darkness. Her career in social work is the perfect complement to her husband's work in the mental health field.

Education and Career

Barker's first experience with nursing was as a nursing assistant in the late 1960s. He took the job to pay off debts, liked it so well that he made it his life's work and worked as a mental health nurse for over 35 years. Always innovative, he supported alternative joint projects. In 1986, he formed a community support group for bipolar women. He believed that people should be offered help for their distress but it should not be forced upon them.

After receiving a PhD in psychiatric nursing, he became the United Kingdom's first professor of psychiatric nursing practice at the University of Newcastle in England. He was also a visiting professor at a number of international universities. Retiring from the University of Newcastle in 2002, his colleagues remember him as being very good company but a nonconformist with his long beard and red clogs. He now devotes time to being with his wife and his love of painting but is still present in the psychiatric field. A psychotherapist in private practice, he is also visiting professor at several universities. He is actively writing, speaking, researching and giving workshops. He says that there is still much to be done in the psychiatric field and that he would rather be an activist than a nursing leader. During his career, he and his wife wrote over 18 books and 50 book chapters, and he published over 150 academic papers.

Honors and Awards

Dr. Barker has received many awards including selection as a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing in 1995, the Red Gate Award at the University of Tokyo in 2000 and an honorary doctorate at the Oxford Brookes University in 2001. In 2006, he was given a Blackwell's Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2008, both he and his wife, Poppy Buchanan-Barker, received the prestigious Szasz Civil Liberties Awards in New York City. In spite of all his awards, he feels that his greatest achievements were gained by interacting and learning from people.

Nursing Theory

Dr. Barker is considered one of the most prominent nursing theorists in the field of mental health. Hildegard Peplau who developed the Theory of Interpersonal Relations was an early influence. After studying in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with the husband and wife team Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, the creators of Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), he developed the Tidal Model for psychiatric nursing. It was first used in adult mental health programs in Newcastle, England, and by 2004, it was used in over 100 settings throughout the world.

The Tidal Model Theory takes mental problems from a medical setting into a nursing setting and uses the metaphor of water to describe the patients' fluid state of health. It speaks of patients' problems as being shipwrecked, drowning or washed ashore and sees life as an ocean of experience. It sees treatment as a rescue and exploration into what caused the storm and what needs to be done to set sail again.

The model sees change as the only constant. Nursing's role is to help people become aware of these changes and use their own wisdom to influence these changes in a positive way. Nurses offer unconditional support to patients and listen to their stories that allow them to grow through their distress. Nurses nurture people who are in crisis. Nursing seeks to enter the world of emotional insecurity and understand it. Dr. Barker's inspiration and mentor, Hildegard Peplau, saw nursing as a creative practice and the Tidal Model furthers that concept.

Publications related to Phil Barker

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