Healing Through Metaphors in Counselling & Psychotherapy

Welcome to this month’s featured therapist blog, where Person-Centered Counsellor Debbie Holder guides us through the therapeutic use of metaphors to assist in the process of personal transformation, healing and growth.

Debbie Holder BACP Accred Person Centred Counsellor

Debbie Holder BACP Accred Person Centred Counsellor

Be a lion that roars.

Be a flower that blooms.

Be a river that flows.

                          Whatever you are, just be your best.”

                                                              Angel Pakai Gucci

I’ve always considered myself to be a creative person, so it was a natural pathway for creativity to become central to my work as a counsellor. As I have grown in knowledge and experience,so has my therapist ‘s tool box,which,like a good wine, has matured and is now a “treasure trove” of creative props, enabling me to offer an eclectic, holistic approach.

One of the most valued tools in my box is a metaphor, the definition of which is:

A therapeutic metaphor is a figurative comparison used by a therapist to assist a client in the process of personal transformation, healing and growth.”

Through my work in private practice, I have learnt to weave therapeutic metaphors into the counselling process, which are client -generated. By using a metaphor, a client can tap into their “inner world” and express emotion in a unique way, linking into a word, image, symbol or visualisation, which, in turn, is the beginning of a unique and colourful “journey”. My role as a therapist is to connect to the metaphor, “go with the flow” and  use my intuition so that I speak the same (metaphorical) language as my client.

The use of a metaphor in counselling and psychotherapy is a powerful tool and has huge potential to open a portal to be able to see“ outside of the box”, offering an opportunity to learn and gain a deeper understanding of the ‘self’. Thus, by connecting thought processes, feelings and behaviour to a word, symbol or visual image, a metaphor can enable a client to identify “blocks” and negative patterns as well as challenging belief systems that no longer serve in a positive way, which can then facilitate growth and positive change.

Naturally, we all use metaphors in our everyday language and communication with each other. An example would be: “She’s feeling as flat as a pancake”, “He’s as sick as a parrot” and: ”l feel like l’m going down a slippery slope.”  Of course there is not a pancake, parrot or slippery slope in sight; it is simply a figure of speech  and a way that we have  all learnt to express ourselves.

Ametaphor used in therapy is different in the sense that it is a four stage therapeutic process.; the four stages being:

1. Identifying a metaphor

2. Developing a metaphor

3. Working with the metaphor

4. Mature changes

So let us focus on identifying a metaphor; as an example,we can use a river to represent ourselves. Take a second to connect to your thoughts and visualise yourself as the river.

visualise yourself as a river

visualise yourself as a river

Now ask yourself…… Is your river calm and still? Is it fast flowing and out of control? Are you fearful of putting your toe in the water and so steer clear of the river?  Do you jump in head first and struggle to keep your head above water? Is your river dried up or stagnant?  Has it burst its banks and flooding everywhere? What colour is the water? Is it clear and transparent or cloudy and full of pollution?

A metaphor will evolve and change as you work with it, adding a different dimension to the therapeutic process. To explore and expand your metaphor on to the next level, you can ask yourself further questions such as:

How would you like your river to be? Would you like to build bridges? Clear away all the debris and pollution? Or sit quietly on the river bank and enjoy the view?

As the metaphor develops, you may identify patterns and cycles in your life that you may choose to challenge and change, and you can continue to use the metaphor in between sessions to help to see things more objectively, or as a tool for emotional management.

On my own personal reflection I found that my “river “was fast- flowing and I saw that sometimes I hang onto the” branches” on the bank, resisting the natural flow of the water. Although there seemed to be the odd bit of “debris” floating by, the water was crystal clear; I realised that as I get older, I no longer wish to live life on the “rapids”, so I identified a goal to work towards, which was slowing down the “flow” of the water so that l am able to sit and watch my “river” in a quiet spot, where l can savour the moment and enjoy life.


If you are interested in taking a metaphorical journey through counselling and would like to meet with Debbie or another therapist at the Rutland House Counselling & Psychotherapy practice, please contact us to discuss avaliability.

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