social icons graphic

Introduction to Metaphor in Therapy

Introduction to Metaphor in Therapy

The use of metaphor in therapy is not new. Deriving from Greek roots and meaning, literally, to “carry over”, metaphor involves describing or explaining something in terms of something else. Erickson is the generally recognised master of metaphorical suggestion in hypno-psychotherapy relaying .personal experiences, anecdotes, life-situations and case studies to his clients. His approach has been extended by hypno-psychotherapists such as Rosen (1982) -presenting a fascinating compendium of-Erickson’s case vignettes – Lankton & Lankton (1989)and Havens & Walters (1991) – who design metaphors for specific presenting issues – and Greenleaf (1996), who frequently appears to “out-Erickson” Erickson himself. Like Erickson, I tend to utilise metaphor in therapy.

To illustrate the Ericksonian use of therapeutic metaphor, clients may be invited, subtly, to reflect upon their difficulties as part of a journey, smooth seas never having made an expert sailor. Distraction from discomfort may covertly be elicited by the Ericksonian hypno-psychotherapist casually mentioning everyday experiences involving habituation: not noticing the glasses on the bridge of your nose, nor the weight of your feet on the floor, nor the noisy clock  ticking five minutes after you enter the room. Trying too hard ry?y be successfully prevented through implicit parallels with the evident relaxation of the world’s best sprinters in action or the absence of effort characterised by the professional golfer or tennis player “in the zone” . Panicky clients may be discouraged from reacting to their own reaction by viewing panic as an itch better alone rather than scratched. Addicted clients may, similarly, be urged to “stop feeding the monster”.

Such shorthand comparisons may be dressed up, and further debarred from counterproductive conscious processing, in full-blown stories. A-good example of metaphor in therapy is cited by Havens and Walters(1989: 165-7),regarding smoking cessation condensed as follows. Note the various aspects of smoking cleverly woven into the script.

A man bought a house he had admired for some time, perhaps even since his teenage years. He lavished care and attention on the house, decorating it tastefully. At the time, he barely noticed a headache developing in the background. It was several years before it came to his attention that his head had begun to ache continuously, as did his muscles. He tried may ways to feel better, but nothing seemed to work. On a subsequent dream vacation, however, he was pleased to discover that his headaches had disappeared almost overnight. When he arrived home, he contacted an expert to check out his house. He was told that it was riddled with insecticide and that he was slowly being poisoned. It took only a day for the man to pack his belongings, appreciating that his health was worth far more than any house, no matter how much and for how long he had wanted it.

In a quasi-confusional preamble to the above anecdote, furthermore, reference is made to embarking upon a journey, “reservations taken care of (1989: 165).

A good hypnotherapist will be adept at using metaphor in therapy

Recent Posts