Metaphors in Therapy

It might just be me, but metaphors are one of the most useful and most enjoyable things I do in therapy. How it develops as session moves forward…it’s so very alive! And it’s the perfect blend of co-creation, client investment, being in the here-and-now, and creating that shared vocabulary and those “inside jokes” that really solidify the relationship.

Metaphor open doors and windows. They grow into fruit-bearing stories. They are infused with energy, like water, like light, like electricity.

Here are some of my favorite, most typically-useful metaphors.

  • Therapy/life as a quest
  • Self as a house
  • Family as an ecosystem
  • Psychotherapy as physical therapy/working out
  • Relationships as a garden

Here’s the thing about metaphors. You need to be open to them – both hearing them in session and seeing them in the world. Have you ever seen the show “House?” Dr. House is an amazing diagnostician in part because he is outrageously knowledgeable and competent. But if you’ve watched the show, you know that a lot of what seems like magic happens because his brain – the sort of white noise that’s always activated – is always open. He’s got the client du jour floating in the background, always, so that when other (seemingly random) things happen, it clicks.

Once I was driving, and saw someone transporting a leather sofa in the back of their truck. I thought, “They’re lucky it isn’t raining!” But then… it became a metaphor for a client that week, who was tempting fate with her vulnerability. Another time, it was writing a stock “thank you note” that prompted a metaphor about a client’s timid, prepared communication and how it was often appreciated in the moment but then forgotten and not incorporated into her relationships.

Yes, be careful. Metaphors only go so far. Also, I know I’m providing you with some “stock” metaphors here, but the other risk is that your metaphor either doesn’t fit the client’s experience or (worse!) they make your metaphor fit their experience, and then it’s not authentic. So, please, invite them to co-create with you!

(And yes, I will do more posts that flesh out each of those metaphors, and more!)

Comment: What are your favorite therapy metaphors?





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