Metaphors Offer Meaning


“I had a black dog, his name was depression” is a video which make so much sense to so many people across the world. Depression does not discriminate and it comes in all shapes and sizes. Some may call their depression a black dog, others a slug or demon on their shoulder. The metaphor that someone uses for their depression can also be the thing which brings them closer to managing their symptoms. Metaphors can also be used within therapy to support changes in thinking. Steve Killick, Vicki Curry and Pamela Myles (2016) have collated some of the metaphors which clinicians  have used or have developed with clients to help overcome their difficulties, have a read of this one or the others in the paper and tell me which is your favourite.

This is my favourite;

Folding up paper to put in the bin- Young people and trauma

I was working with a 14-year-old boy with PTSD following some very traumatic events. We were about to embark on our third session of trauma-focused CBT and I wanted to remind him why it could be helpful to go through what happened and talk about the very thing that he had avoided talking about for 18 months.

I tried to explain that I wanted to help him to take the sensory information of the memories and ‘wrap them up in words’. I reminded him of two common metaphors that I had used in earlier sessions to explain how this processing of memories can lead to a reduction in symptoms: the wardrobe (Ehlers & Clark, 2000) and the factory (Richards & Lovell, 1999).

These two metaphors had been adapted and elaborated following the feedback from many clients (the revised versions are described in Trickey, 2013). The client listened patiently, nodding and encouraging me as I told him the stories. He then said ‘It’s a bit like that David, but actually, it’s more like this’. He filled up the waste paper bin with scrunched up pieces of paper until it was overflowing and said ‘These are all the bad things that have happened to me, and as I walk along the road to school [he made the bin walk along and bits of paper fell out of the top] they fall in front of my eyes. And as I go to sleep [he lay the bin down and more pieces of paper fell out] they fall into my dreams. But when I come here and talk to you, we take each piece of paper out [he took each of the pieces of paper out], un-scrunch them [he un-scrunched them], and we read them through carefully. Then we fold them up neatly and place them back in the bottom of the bin [he folded up each piece of paper neatly and placed it in the bottom of the bin]. This means that they don’t fall out the top, and I have more room in my head to think of different things’.

Not only is this a remarkably helpful metaphor, I love using it because it came from a client in the middle of trauma-focused therapy to explain his own experience of how it was helping. I have used this story many times since, and because it comes from a ‘fellow-client’ it has much more credibility. I am so grateful to the client for his help.

You can read the whole article here:

Click to access div-class-title-the-mighty-metaphor-a-collection-of-therapists-favourite-metaphors-and-analogies-div.pdf

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