Clients’ Metaphors in Therapy
It is not only therapists who use metaphors, it is essential for the practitioner to listen for clients’ metaphors as well. Furthermore, the presenting issue itself may be the clients’ metaphor for the clients’ unconscious experience. Erectile dysfunction, for instance, may reflect a sense of powerlessness in clients’ relationship with their partner. Utilising clients’ beliefs and perspectives enhances the effectiveness of a metaphor. By way of illustration, Erickson employed a tractor analogy when striving to improve a farm worker client’s self-esteem, living conditions and standards of hygiene. After stern resistance to other interventions, the client readily understood Erickson’s detailed treatise on the proper care of farm machinery and made the desired changes (Haley, 1973: 128). Similarly, with a young bed-wetting client, Erickson discussed the boy’s sporting interests, the muscle groups involved, their timing and co-ordination, muscle types, and finally the muscle at the bottom of the stomach which holds back and releases food as required. Although the enuresis problem was never mentioned by Erickson, it was soon permanently rectified (Haley, 1973: 199-20l) by using his clients’ metaphors.
Humorous fables and parables may be incorporated in to an Ericksonian metaphorical approach. The Adlerian therapist, Pancner, is a rich source in this respect. His The Fox and the Train fable, for example, strives to ease clients’ disappointment in love. So whether Ericksonian or Psychodynamic, clients’ metaphors bring with them a wealth of information for the practitioner.
A fox was out on a cold winter day foraging for food. Because he was so chilly, so hungry, and so preoccupied with his hunting, he forgot to look either way as he crossed the railroad tracks. A train bore down on him as he went across one set of tracks and amputated his tail. The fox jumped, turned around to look at what happened, and another train whizzed by and took off his head. Moral: Don’t lose your head over a piece of tail!
(Erickson, however, tended to leave the underlying message implicit and even changed to a different metaphor if he sensed that clients were beginning to decode at the conscious level.) This being said, Erickson always ensured that he used his clients’ metaphors for therapeutic change work.
(Pancner, in Carlson & Slavik [edsl, 1997: l40)