OBJECTIVE This study was designed to understand emotional expression as an element of the chronic disease self-management course (CDSMC). METHODS Interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used to analyse a qualitative interview data set in which 10 lay-tutors described their perceptions of emotional expression during a CDSMC. The accounts were used to develop an interpretive phenomenological account. RESULTS Tutors suggest that people on a CDSMC are often unaware of their own emotional state and lack the vocabulary for expression. Tutors use metaphorical language to help Course participants to identify their own feelings and construct meaning of their illness experiences. 'Off-loading' and 'feeling blue' are used to help them find the expressions to talk about their emotions and release their feelings. CONCLUSION Tutors use metaphoric terms as a framework for the understanding of emotional states that Course participants often find 'difficult to label'. The analogous structure of metaphor helps with the understanding of inner feelings and provides expressive phrases for dialogue that can lead to emotional relief. PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS This study provides important considerations that could be applied when training CDSMC tutors to help facilitate emotional understanding and expression.