A metaphor is something that reminds you of something else, in such a way that the something else lets you think about the original something in a different way. To write a metaphor for therapy, take the situation, strip away all the details until only the structure is left, name each part in the most general words, then write the hypnotic metaphor by replacing the general structure with specific words from a different situation.
To write a metaphor you follow the same process as writing hypnotic stories. You identify who is involved in the problem, what the behaviour pattern is, and what elements make up the behaviour pattern. Then you identify a metaphor situation that would be acceptable to the client.
You write the metaphor using common stereotypes and symbolic ideas in order to hook into the client's belief system. For example a common stereotype is that all French are great cooks, all Italians are excitable, all Scotsmen are mean. An example of a symbolic idea for metaphor would be an enchanted forest with elves and unicorns or any other well know characters that the client can be expected to recognise. The actual metaphor situation doesn't matter as long as the client can identify with the powers and failings of the characters in the metaphor.
Then you create one metaphor character to represent each character in the problem situation. You create one metaphor activity for each element in the problem behaviour, and then one metaphor solution for each element. Then you link them all into a logically coherent metaphor story.
The following example shows how I went about writing a metaphor when I was asked to create a metaphor suitable for a ten year old boy who has frequent asthma attacks.
In this case the client is a child so some sort of magical power might be both acceptable and memorable. I needed to set the metaphor in some magical place. I often set my metaphors in exotic places where strange things can happen so I chose to use India as somewhere a boy might have heard of but not know much about.
Is the situation just something the client does, or is it about relationships with other people? Create a character to represent the client and each person in the situation. In this case there is only one character, the client, but I thought the child would need some assurance of an outside resource, so I created a metaphor character to represent the therapist.
Is there a cycle of events? For each event in the cycle create a matching event in the metaphor and a matching way out of the problem.
|Current situation||Metaphor Situation||Metaphor Solution|
|Sudden stress||Appearance of snake||Graduated exposure|
|Loss of control||Fright||Learning control|
|Panic||Panic||Resource is there|
|Eventual calm||Out --> down|
|Fear of repeat||Avoiding snake||Pride in ability|
|Anxiety||Staying away||Snake goes away|
Belief that he can control the anxiety.
A method to stop the panic attack.
Put the child into trance and then tell this story.
|I wonder if you know that I used to live in India?||Set up magical place|
|India is an amazing place. There are monkeys in the trees and elephants walking down the streets.||Emphasis strangeness|
|And in the streets and you can watch people juggling with swords and eating fire and spitting out big flames and getting tied up in chains and padlocks and escaping and everyone applauds and throws them money.||Metaphor for strange abilities|
|And there are snake charmers. They have a great big cobra, a real live snake, in a basket, right there in the street. And when the man takes the lid off the basket the snake wakes up and it rises out of the basket standing there angry and hissing and flicking its forked tongue… ready to bite anybody and all the people move back… but the snake charmer plays a thing like a flute… and snake hears the music and with just the music the man makes it dance… this huge poisonous snake with two big fangs … sways from side to side while the man plays the music and when the music stops it goes to sleep again.||Set up the story situation – a dangerous thing controlled by magic|
|Metaphor of the problem|
|Identity||I used to know this boy who was there.||Main character|
|He was about your age and one day he was there and he didn’t notice that the snake charmer took the lid off the basket and the snake came out right next to the boy.||Problem starts|
|And the boy got such a fright he became afraid to go into the street and every time he had to go there he got this feeling of panic and a feeling in his chest like he couldn’t breathe.||Match the boy's problem|
|And he always worried that he might have to go there again. Even just thinking that maybe he would have to go there again made him feel breathless sometimes.||Similar anxiety = metaphor|
|And just thinking about the snake he always imagined it as cold and slimy and fierce and huge and he got really afraid to go into that street anymore.||Similar Helplessness|
|Metaphor for the cycle|
|Well the snake charmer heard about this and he wanted to help the boy.||New resource = therapist|
|Behaviour||He got the boy to come into the street and he showed him that the lid was on the basket so the boy could relax.||Safe to look at the problem|
|Then the man surprised him - he lifted the lid for just a second – and put it back on again. The boy saw the big snake sleeping inside but it was so quick that the snake did not have time to even move.||Graduated exposure|
|The man did this many times – lift, look, close – until the boy felt comfortable about it.|
|Capability||And then the boy got really brave. He asked the man if he could lift the lid himself.||Finding resource|
|Capability||And the snake charmer looked at him and said ‘Yes: you are old enough now to be able to do that’.||Indirect suggestion|
|Behaviour||So he copied what the man did – lift, look, close. And soon he was quite relaxed about it.|
|In fact he got quite too casual about it, and started showing off, and left the lid off too long and the snake rose right up in front of the boy.||Sudden panic|
|And the boy was so frightened that he felt his chest close up and it was hard to breathe and felt he might die of fright.||Reminder of asthma|
|Metaphor for the resources|
|Rule||But the snake charmer wouldn’t let that happen.||Reassurance|
|He took his flute and started playing again and the snake began to sway and then it went back into the basket.||Demonstrate control|
|And then the man said to the boy – Can you keep a secret?||Resource|
|And the boy said he would never tell the secret.||Resource|
|The man made sure there was nobody else around and then he whispered ‘It’s not the music that charms the snake back into the basket. Snakes are actually deaf’.||Revelation of weakness|
|Capability||To charm the snake, all I have to do is to move the end of the flute side to side and the snake follows, and when I move the end of it down the snake goes down.||Secret ability|
|Identity||And the boy learned that that great big snake wasn’t so strong after all, it couldn’t even hear, and it was so stupid that it would do whatever it was told. And the boy laughed about that.||Giving superiority|
|Capability||And after the boy knew that he was able to start to learn how to control the snake.||Suggestion|
|Behaviour||The man showed the boy how to lift the lid and move away… and when the snake rose up the man started playing the music and boy pretended to be playing the music along with him… and the boy started to breath in time with the music, he discovered that when he breathed out the snake would go down a bit, and then another gentle breath and the snake would go down a bit more...and pretty soon that boy could control the snake just by breathing.||Metaphor for how to manage the panic feelings|
|Identity||The man was really impressed. He said ‘You do that thing with your breathing so well. You could be a snake charmer yourself’.||Reframing|
|Metaphor of getting rid of the triggers|
|And you know that boy was never bothered by the snake again. He could run around in the street and often waved at the man and he even got a bit fond of the snake in the end.||Problem resolved|
|And when he grew up the snake got really old and it was too old to dance and too old to frighten anybody as well but they didn’t say that... so the boy and the man took it out to the countryside one day... and let it go. And it’s retired now.||Let the problem go into extinction|
You can write a metaphor for any situation with a bit of practice.