Recently a client came to see me feeling like she “wasn’t allowed to be herself”. Through a gentle questioning process she came up with her own metaphor of feeling like she was “carrying a backpack full of stones,” one was guilt, another was rules…etc., and that she also felt like she was “wearing a straightjacket with strings tied in the front”. Through a process of metaphor facilitation she was able to let go of the stones, one by one, as well as untie the straightjacket. Along with hypnosis to deepen her work, by the end of the session she said she felt more from that single session than from hours and hours of other types of therapy.
I hear this often. And this is not in any way to put down other forms of therapy – they all are appropriate in the right context. I just happen to believe that very effective techniques for expanding our choices are becoming available that are only now starting to emerge and will hopefully one day be incorporated into standard coaching or therapy practices.
What amazes me about the metaphor facilitation techniques in particular is how much a client’s own spontaneous metaphors can have such a profoundly positive and lasting impact on their beliefs, goals and conflicts. Like Sigmund Freud’s famous saying: “Dreams are the Royal Road to the Unconscious”, our own metaphors can be a very, very powerful way of accessing unconscious resources to help facilitate deep change.
Psychologists and linguists have determined that we use up to six metaphors per minute, and that significant feelings, thoughts, beliefs and experiences are recorded as internalized metaphors, and that metaphors are the way our brains “get a handle” on our world. Working with metaphors is a powerful way of using those “handles” that is both safe and effective, and most clients report it being a surprisingly interesting experience.
By actively engaging a client’s metaphors, meaningful changes to thoughts, feelings, and actions come about because new neural pathways are established and strengthened. The old neural pathways or memories are not erased. Instead, new pathways become the primary routes when cues such as a memories or other behaviors are activated, giving the client new choices for responding.