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Using Metaphors and Imagery in Therapy

Therapists seem to use metaphors, analogies and imagery as therapeutic interventions so naturally that it is easy to even miss that it is ‘an intervention’. Likening our human experience to an image, object, or situation is a common way to convey complex, hard to describe experiences in a way others will comprehend. In fact, it is not only therapists who use such ‘interventions’ in the therapy, but clients also translate their lived experiences into analogies to ensure their therapist’s understanding aligns as close as is possible with their experiences.

So why then do therapists need to give attention to metaphors if they come so naturally? The answer is simple; if metaphors and analogies are powerful when they come naturally without much thought, image what we can do with them when we use them with intent?

Over my career, I have come to use various metaphors and analogies all the time in therapy. I love to hear those that speak to clients and learn from other therapists which ones they use and love. I have naturally developed a little catalogue of my favourites, ones that I have observed many clients to take to quickly and naturally. Such as, when first attending therapy presenting like a ‘shaken coke bottle’; on the outside no one would know there was anything going on, but inside they are ‘fizzing’ and holding on tight to avoid what they fear would happen if they let go… We all of course know exactly what to do with a coke bottle, slowly open, and tighten again, over and over until we just know enough fizz has been released so that when the lid comes off no great disaster occurs. Such a wonderful analogy of the process of therapy, the client comes each week to ‘release some gas’, and it is the therapists’ job to contain and tighten the lid before the session ends allowing the client to return to normal life regulated once again until the following session. Eventually the client realises that the fizzing they carried once before has settled and they can finally ‘let go’ of holding themselves so tightly.

I have many favourites, I’m sure you do too. If you see this article, please share with therapists or those who love therapy and ask them what metaphors and analogies they have come across that enabled them to shift and move in therapy? If you would like to know more of my favourite metaphors do drop me a line. Alternatively I offer workshops for therapeutic teams on the use of metaphors in therapy.


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