Drowning or Waving?

social anxiety brightonI have written about metaphors on this blog before (see my post of 30th August 2012) and I will no doubt write about them again. Describing our lives and how we feel through the use of metaphor is, I believe, a powerful means of exploring and making sense of our world.
My Collins English Dictionary (dog-eared and spineless) defines a metaphor as “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…” Through the use of metaphor it is possible to get to grips with how we are feeling whilst at the same time maintaining a safe distance from our actual experience. Exploring a metaphor with a client can often lead to greater insight and awareness.
A metaphor I frequently use with new clients is that of how they are feeling in terms of where the water level might be if they were standing in the sea. For instance, I might ask if the water is lapping around their chest, up to their chin or even so high that they have to tip back their neck to breathe through their nostrils. I might go on to ask them about the water: is it cold, choppy, salty or clogged with seaweed? Where are their feet? Are they standing on sand, rocks or something slippery? What can they see from where they are: the shore, a boat, other people? Such information can often open up dialogue and prove surprisingly fruitful.
As counselling progresses I might return to this metaphor by asking the client to imagine where the water level is now. For example, are they able to look about them now that the water has receded to chest height? What can they see? What’s it like to be able to breathe easily and enjoy the sensation of your feet planted firmly on solid ground?
I will also pick up on a metaphor that a client presents to me. Perhaps they describe themselves in relation to a type of animal or maybe they see themselves caught up in a pattern of behaviour that feels like they are on a merry-go-round (and can’t get off!).
I have found the use of metaphor to describe experience in counselling or psychotherapy to be both comforting and productive. A metaphorical scenario can be returned to again and again and can often illustrate how a person’s outlook changes as therapy progresses. Perhaps as you read this post you have taken a moment to imagine how you would feel standing in the sea right now?
Image courtesy of Nathan Rogers at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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