Use of Metaphor and Parable in Clinical Psychotherapy and Hypnotherapy
All language is essentially metaphorical, since we use language to represent the world around us and to convey meaning. Lacan, the great if complex French Philosopher and Psychotherapist, claimed that it is in language that the unconscious makes itself known.
As well as general use however, metaphor is used commonly in a partial sense by illustrating a description: “I was dog tired”, “It took an iron will”, “My arms felt as heavy as lead”. It can also be used to create context or to relate to people “So that is a little bit like overcoming a loss or bereavement…”, “I remember someone who experienced a similar problem with….”. In therapy this can also be used to illustrate for learning.
Metaphor for learning in psychotherapy
If a client is not able to see past a problem, for example if their attempts to fix something have been repeatedly frustrated, then reframing the problem using a similar yet different example in a metaphorical way can invite a different perspective. This is consistent with both positive psychology (such as humanistic psychotherapy and mindfulness therapy) and cognitive behavioural therapy, or even indeed the use of symbolism in psychodynamic work.
More directive metaphor can be used if asking the client to actively imagine a similar yet different metaphor, and how they might see things, asking them to comment and extrapolate.
This can be used later in actual visualisation, whether based around hypnotherapy, talking therapy or mindful analysis. It can also be used to imagine the situation and then consider what emotions or behavioural impulses it evokes.
Metaphor for allowing change
A more subtle change occurs when we actually consider then possibility of a thing being possible, by bringing it to life through metaphor. Metaphor approaches the scary or forbidden issue in a different way, by inviting the client to think about perhaps something similar being possible, and thus shifting the overall grounds of possibility.
In hypnotherapy metaphor is used to invite the consideration of change being possible in a stronger way, by deliberately inviting the client to change the paradigm of how they observe and perceive issues. This can be in trance based hypnosis, or conversational hypnosis where the example is introduced into the psychotherapeutic discussion.
Metaphor directly likening to a problem
In both conversational hypnotic language, and trance based hypnosis, metaphor is often used to elicit the idea of a “type of change”. For example “Flow around obstacles like the water of a river”. This is often also used in mindful practice, where eastern psychology is rich in symbolic metaphor.
How is metaphor incorporated into sessions of psychotherapy and hypnotherapy
Metaphor can be declared, “Lets think of an example of something in order to examine a new outcome…”, or used more subtly as hypnotic metaphor… “Hmmm that is a bit like…” in the conversation itself (conversation hypnotic technique”. It can also be used in formal meditation and hypnosis (trance based).
Who is qualified to use metaphor in psychotherapy and hypnotherapy
The most naturally qualified people to use metaphor are those trained and accredited clinicians whose training and practice employs metaphor naturally. For example those clinicians trained in conversational hypnosis, eastern psychologies and philosophy. This can be an integral part of their training, or as CPD (continuous professional development).
Stuart is a long time multi-faith practitioner with CPD and personal development training in philosophy, theology and comparative models of psychology, including at university level. He has also studied holistic and clinical applications of mindfulness, conversational and narrative hypnosis, and this is underpinned with senior accreditation in clinical psychotherapy and hypnotherapy.
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