The power of metaphor in counselling
The use of metaphor is such a powerful source for personal change in counselling, I admit this is a strong statement to make, how then can that be true? I will endeavour to evidence this claim in this article and, like a metaphor used by a client in a session, this will change from one meaning to another, and give flesh to this claim.
What is a metaphor?
A metaphor is "A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action that it does not literally denote, in order to imply a resemblance. For example, 'He is a lion in battle’." - Collins Concise Dictionary.
How can using metaphor help a client in a counselling session?
When a client is struggling to give meaning to a feeling or personal experience and cannot easily put this into words, by conceptualising their struggle to make sense of feelings and personal experience, the use of a metaphor can help them make sense of their struggle. It can enable them to own a meaning or feeling that previously they were unable to feel or consider.
Using a metaphor, a client can alter its meaning through exploring it with the counsellor. And, through this exploration, they can transform the metaphor, thus, the feelings applied to it can change. It’s almost as if a metaphor can take on a life of its own and become something bigger than just being a metaphor.
In my experience, the power of metaphor in counselling is that, once a client can use and own a metaphor for themselves, it becomes limitless as to what meaning or feeling they can own through their use of metaphor.
I believe very much in the power of a metaphor to heal. What may start off as a metaphor that the client conceptualises to make sense and to understand themselves can, through the client experiencing it and processing its meaning, evolve into a metaphor for change - and through change, they can heal.
The limitlessness ability of a metaphor is the essence of the journey a client can make to understand themselves. What may start as a very dark and painful metaphor can evolve through the client accepting its darkness. And, through this acceptance (which in itself can be a very painful process), they can transform it into a light and hopeful metaphor for personal renewal that can prevail from what was once a dark and painful place.
I’m not saying that every client needs to use a metaphor, nor do I think that metaphor alone is the reason counselling works. But, it’s just another aspect of counselling and, particularly in the person-centred approach, that can help clients in their struggle to understand themselves and the world in which they live.
What is fundamentally the most important aspect of person-centred counselling is that the client feels understood and accepted by the counsellor. And, in the use of metaphor, this exploration between client and counsellor is one way in which this process can be experienced.