Counselling – Working with metaphor

Out & About

Guest blogger and 'reporter at large' Barry Heap returns this week, to discuss how the use of metaphor can enhance the theraputic relationship , developing a common language between client and therapist.

Barry writes  a regular 'agony aunt' column for the online magazine thegayuk.com 


Counselling – Working with metaphor

This month we will be focusing on interactions with clients. The most effective sessions are those where both therapist and client are communicating in the same language. Being on the same page and sharing the same terms can mean that as a therapist you are able to hit relational depth.

The clients feel another level of acceptance and the counsellor is no longer an outsider, they share something in common with the client and they may feel more inclined to trust the therapist more.

Metaphors are especially useful when working with a client.

Metaphor is defined as:a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a semblance

In counselling it is particularlyuseful as the client may find it hard to express how they are feeling. By using the metaphor they can effectively communicate how they are feeling and how they view the world.

 In terms of description it also gives you an insight on how they experience the world around them. For example if they use a visual metaphor it may be that they would best respond to visual examples and imagery.

When working with a client in initially fairly uncommunicative, he mentioned that he liked video games. I was able to discuss too that I enjoyed games as well and we were able to then find a common ground. In the next session  the client had begun to open up and he made a comparison to a video game saying that he felt he was on pause and unable to move forwards.

From here I was able to continue working with him in the same language. We talked not about The Hierarchy of needs but levelling up, we discussed being able to use power ups, saving your progress and equipping your character for the correct mission. If this sounds detached, please let me assure you it was anything but, for the remainder of the sessions the client was attended and engaged with me and the therapeutic process.

Of course I love metaphors; before I began my counselling diploma I had been interested in the works of Carl Jung and his archetype principals on the collective unconscious. I believe in the power of metaphors. I’ve long since had a connection to the legend of the phoenix.

The phoenix comes from Asian mythology and tells the story of a bird that is the colour of fire and at the end of its life cycle it smoulders into ash and an egg is left from which the phoenix is reborn and the cycle begins anew.

For me this metaphor is about hope rebirth and rejuvenation. For things to change and ultimately get better you need to be able to let something go and begin anew. I believe in the phoenix and the symbolism means so much to me that I had a tattoo on my  arm years ago and when  I decided to set up private practice I named my practice after this.I felt the power of that metaphor which had helped me would now be able to help others

 Don't forget to share you experience of using metaphor , please share your experiences of this extraordinary way of communicating in the comments section !