stop smoking metaphor


How to create a unique metaphor for quitting

The embedded metaphor technique consists of therapeutic metaphors nested inside each other. Typically three metaphors are used in sequence. Each metaphor matches some situation the client wants to change. The client is introduced to the first metaphor and is led through it to some dramatic point where the story is left hanging at some unresolved issue. Then the therapist starts on a second story and again the client is led to some dramatic point and that story too is left unresolved. The third story is introduced but it is taken to its conclusion. This third metaphor is the central aspect of the therapy session. It can be pure metaphor or elements of direct suggestion may be incorporated into this core part.

Advanced therapy technique

The advantage doing an intervention in the midst of unresolved stories is that the listener will be in some sort of tension, looking for resolution of the stories, and therefore more open to new ideas and the possibility of change. The stories resume and the issue inherent in the third metaphor is resolved, usually by showing how the protagonist used some overlooked resource. Then the theme of the second story is picked up again and taken to its conclusion, ideally showing how the same resource was used to solve the second problem. Finally, the third metaphor story resumes where it left off and the client is shown how to resolve that too. The third story is often resolved paradoxically, or humorously.

This is an advanced therapy technique that can be applied to many different types of problem. 



To illustrate how multiple embedded metaphors might work, consider a case where a person cannot give up smoking. The person feels helpless in being unable to change, realises that smoking is socially unacceptable and is causing isolation, and the smoking is noticeably affecting their health. The problem is that the person cannot access the resources needed to change.

An analysis of the problem situation would show that there are four areas needing to be addressed.



Becoming ill

Lack of resources to change


Each issue needs to  have a metaphor created for it, and be embedded into a metaphor structure:

            First Metaphor - Helplessness

                        Second Metaphor - Social isolation

                                    Third Metaphor - Increasing ill health

                                                Direct Suggestion - Connection to resources

                                    Third Metaphor - Problem resolution

                        Second Metaphor - Problem resolution

            First Metaphor - Problem resolution


Using this template an original three part story was created to illustrate how the framework is used. In this example an anthropomorphic style was chosen:

First Metaphor - Helplessness

There once was a doll who was sat high up on a shelf. The doll didn’t know how she got there, and the shelf was so high that she was afraid of falling, and so she sat very very still and way afraid to move.

Second Metaphor - Social isolation

All day long the doll sat on the shelf and looked down at all the other toys on the floor and wished that she could join them. But week after week the doll would sit there, afraid to move and feeling very, very lonely.

Third Metaphor - Increasing ill health

The doll had also realized something else. With all that sitting there and not moving she was beginning to get ill. Instead of running around with all her friends she was getting no exercise at all and her arms and legs were getting very very weak.

Direct Suggestion - Connection to resources - ask for help

Well one day the doll was looking down at the toys and there was another doll lying there in the middle of the floor. This was the Dancing Doll. He had lost one of his legs. He was lying there crying and trying to move but it wasn't working and all the other toys, the teddy bears and the soldiers and the big stuffed tiger with the one eye missing were not looking at him and pretending to be doing something else. When suddenly the Big Purple Elephant appeared.

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The rest of this script is in the collection
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