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Oct 8, 2013

The Magic Of Metaphors in Counseling

Using metaphors in our therapy is quite powerful, and at times using the right metaphor seems almost magical.  

I have often been surprised that client resistance and confusion seems to diminish if I find the right metaphor that serves to bring on an "aha" moment in my therapy sessions.  On many occasions, using a powerful metaphor can turn a session around and bring therapist and client to a new level of teamwork, especially as metaphors often evoke laughter and positive emotion, while limiting defensiveness. 

Metaphors in therapy, as in life, are so powerful because they: 

• Allow us to shift our perspective and unlock old ways of thinking that do not work. 
• Help us think flexibly. 
• Evoke emotion, and feelings are the keys to change. 
• Help us understand better than words alone, as metaphors use both words and visualizations. 

• Offer us increased insight by associating a concept with an example that we understand well in everyday life. 

• Serve as reminders in our everyday life that helps clients keep positive and reinforce the therapeutic concepts and insights between sessions.

 After all, we all use metaphors frequently in our daily lives and often don’t even realize we are doing it! So often, figures of speech are metaphors and they are so well entrenched that we sometimes forget that they cannot be taken literally! For example, “painting yourself into a corner” is an expression we all know, but it is not really about using paint! Rather, we are boxing ourselves in (using another metaphor!), or better yet, we are “trapping” ourselves or making us a “prisoner” in the corner. You get the idea of how we use a “boatload” of metaphors all the time, and often do not even realize it since they are now well-accepted figures of speech! Can you think of others? Or do you want to just “cross that bridge” when you come to it? 

Use metaphors to your advantage in therapy. Suggest to your clients to bring around an item with them that is metaphorical and soothing for them–in a purse, wallet, and even in their back pocket! If they are having a challenging time, what metaphor would help them? What small article in their purse or back pocket will represent something soothing and helpful as they cope with challenges? What small visual prop symbolizes strength, courage and self-acceptance? 

Here are some ideas for using metaphorical items as therapeutic touchstones: 

A toy soldier reminds you to be brave and fight for what you believe in! 

A small angel would be an idea to keep in your back pocket to remind yourself that here is hope and you are not alone. 

An eraser in your back pocket reminds you that it’s okay to make mistakes! 

A pencil or pen in your back pocket can remind you to write yourself a happy life now! 

A small bouncing ball can help you keep in mind that you can always bounce back! 
A marble, in case you feel like you are losing your marbles, here is a spare! 

A button to remind you that no one can push your buttons–you hold them in your back pocket! 

A dice to remind you that many things occur by chance, though we still can enjoy the game of life! 

A small sea shell to remind you of peaceful days on the beach. 

A little pearl-like object–to remind you that you hold the pearls of wisdom for your life! 

A bandage to help you heal and soothe your hurts. 

A post-it note with a note to yourself on it, to remind yourself how special you are! 

A crayon to put more color into your world! 

A balloon to remind you to “lighten up!”

The list is infinite of the possible metaphors you and your clients can use, and these above are just samples.  I also use metaphorical stories and examples to help visualize a point, so metaphors are not only limited to simple objects.  Can you add to this list? Have you unleashed the power of metaphors?  Please comment below.  

Judy Belmont, MS, LPC is a mental health and wellness speaker and trainer. She is the author of her publisher's (PESI) 3 book best-selling therapeutic toolbox series, including the recently released "127 More Amazing Tips and Tools For The Therapeutic Toolbox".  Her website, offers psycho-educational handouts, worksheets and videos for therapists and their clients.

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