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.
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
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
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.
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.
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