Let me tell you a story…

If you watched the first Leader’s Debate between the three British main party leaders, before the election last year, you may have noticed how often they used lines like: “I was in my constituency last week, talking to a group of ……, and one of them told me about….” This story-telling technique is known in therapeutic circles as metaphor.
Therapeutic metaphor is a form of suggestion through the use of stories or anecdotes. These can be examples from life, real or imaginary former clients, literature, folk tales or mythology and they seem to speak directly to the unconscious mind.

Take The Lord of the Rings, for example. This long and complex novel incorporates many of Jung’s archetypal elements. Firstly, of course, the book describes the eternal battle between Good and Evil, Light and Dark, the Ego and the Shadow. Frodo is the Hero, who must make a long journey and overcome many obstacles to attain his Quest and conquer evil. Gandalf combines two archetypes, the Magician and the Wise Old Man. He fulfils the same role as Merlin, Mr Spock and Obi Wan Kenobe – a powerful yet vulnerable wise counsellor. Early in the book Gandalf is dragged into an abyss and assumed to be dead, but he reappears later with increased power as Gandalf the White, a clear “death and resurrection” theme. He replaces the evil Saruman the White as head of the wizards’ order; Saruman has been corrupted by the power that he formerly held. All of these elements can be regarded as metaphors for life.

Founder of modern hypnotherapy Milton Erickson was well known for his use of “teaching tales”. These were stories about his own life and previous clients – possibly real, possibly fictional – in which his clients could find their own meanings. I often use life experiences as metaphors for my clients. I may tell smokers, for example, that my father was forced to give up smoking after his heart attack – but it was the lung cancer that finally killed him. I also like to find out about a client’s work and outside interests, as these can often provide useful metaphors.

Metaphors may contain loops, referring back to the beginning of the story. Although metaphors were very noticeable in the first Leaders’ Debate, I don’t remember any in the second – I wonder why?

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