Metaphor Replacement Therapy
Change behavior by changing the metaphor object
Change behavior by changing the metaphor object
Metaphor replacement therapy stages
Associate into the feeling
Metaphor replacement therapy is done by putting the client into trance, and then getting the client to associate into a feeling. When the client is feeling the feeling, you invite and encourage the client to become aware of how their body experiences that feeling. Usually the client will tell you "I feel it in my stomach" or "there is a pressure on my chest" or something similar.
Turn the feeling into a metaphoric representation
Once you have reached this stage you are then ready to turn the physical feeling into its metaphoric representation. Ask the client to think about the feeling. Tell them not to be concerned about what the feeling means, or where it came from, or anything else. Tell them to just be curious about it. Tell them to regard this feeling as some alien thing that has come into their body.
Ask the client to describe the metaphoric object
When the client reaches the stage of thinking about the feeling as being separate from themselves, they are ready for the next stage. In that stage you invite the client to describe the feeling in terms of some physical object. You spend some time getting the client to describe the object in as much detail as they can. The more detail you get from them the more they will associate into that metaphor. The clear of the metaphor is, the easier it is to work with it.
Get the client to change the metaphor object
You then invite the client to change the metaphoric object in some way. You can ask them to make it bigger, or smaller. You can ask them to make it change colour. You can invite them to think about the object automatically changing into something else. How you do it is not important. What you are trying to do is to get the client to allow the metaphor object to change. Changing the metaphor object changes the feeling that the client has in their body. Once you change that feeling, you change whatever the fear is that the been holding.
Get the client to destroy the metaphor object
Once the client is comfortable with any kind of change in that metaphor object you should then try to guide them to find a way to destroy the object. When the object has been destroyed, the fear will be gone forever.
Every session is different. Every client has a different way of understanding their own feelings in terms of metaphor. The basic cycle is the same for every client. Get them to feel the feeling, get them to describe the object that represents the feeling, get them to destroy the object.
Examples of Metaphor Replacement Thererapy
The examples below show how it has been done with various clients with various problems.
A client had the Yips. In golf this is something that affects players and makes them go to pieces whenever they play in front of other people. They can perform beautifully when practicing on their own, but the moment it becomes a real game, they get the shakes, their hands won't do what they want, and they lose every hole.
In this case, she said she gets the yips whenever she needs to play a short put. She begins to feel nervous as they approach the green and the feeling increases as it gets time to put. However, she has no problem with driving, and no real problem with long puts: it is just the short puts that are the problem. Anything under two feet and she misses the hole.
She used to have a six handicap, and now it is up at 19. She loves the game and doesn't want to have to give up.
The problem started about six months ago. I asked what happened six months ago but she couldn't remember anything in particular. Questioning her about exactly what she felt established that the nervousness all was around fear of missing the put, being center stage,everybody focussing on me, everybody watching. In other words it was a phobia of failing and being judged by other people.
I got her to focus on the feeling she got when she approached the green. It took quite a while to get her to feel anything, and to start speaking. After every question she took a minute or more to answer. This often happens. I have come to the conclusion that some people just have a slow unconscious. It doesn't mean anything.
Eventually she said she had the feeling of 'nervousness'. I asked here where in her body it was, what thing it was most like but got very little response. I kept fishing for shapes, location, etc. Eventually she said it was blue. Then round, quite big, but not the same all the way round, a bit jiggledy. Sort of soft. Felt like a sponge. This was something I could work with. I got her to imagine it bigger, then smaller. I told her that being able to change it that way meant she had control. But she didn't really believe that, and she still couldn't get rid of it.
In cases like this, where the client can be aware of the feeling, and describe it clearly, but is unable to change it, I use a technique called attribute reversal. I asked her what was the opposite of 'blue': she said 'yellow'. I asked for the opposite of 'round', she said 'square' and so on. I went through the list of her descriptive words and substituted the new word for the old. Doing that gradually builds up a different image, and at some point its nature changes in the client's mind. That happened in this case. I asked the client how she felt about the yellow, square, even, solid thing now, and she said it made her want to go and play golf.
However, I could not get her to destroy it. Unless it is altered drastically, whatever the fear is that is represented by the metaphoric object will not be cleared. I tried changing the thing into something that would be useful to her. She ignored that suggestion.
Then she said she could still see it. A yellow square thing.
I worked on this to suggest that it could get round, and then added dimples to it.
Then suggested it could roll, be hit by a club, imagine it rolling around the green, being tickled, imagine a big smile on it so it became a smiley face. Then to imagine the ball having fun on the green enjoying going into the hole.
I anchored fun on the idea of picking the ball out of the cup, looking down and seeing a yellow smiley face laughing and winking. She was smiling in trance at this idea.
Then I built on that feeling with future pacing, seeing herself on the practice course doing well, and then joining friends for a game, and as she approaches the green she sees the yellow ball with the big smile on it.
Then I did more direct suggestion about having fun and rapidly reducing her handicap figure until she is back in the clubhouse with her name on the champions shield, cups etc.
I asked her, still in trance, " how does that putting seem to you now?"
She said "I am really looking forward to my next game!"
This client allowed me to get an insight into how the human mind works, and gave very clear metaphors of how she saw her problem.
This client was a woman in late middle age who had suffered from anxiety most of her life. She came to see me because she is having trouble playing the card game Bridge. She is actually a good and skilled player. But whenever she has to partner with someone she does not know, her game falls apart. She is sure that her new bridge partner will be better than her. My client gets anxious at the thought of what the other person might think about her play. She then worries about this until by the time she gets to the card table she is a nervous wreck, and she plays terribly badly. This therefore fulfils her own prophecy and the whole cycle repeats with the next new player.
Get the metaphor object
I decided to use metaphor therapy. I got her to take some deep breaths to calm herself. Then I asked her to think about the last bridge game she had when she felt she just could not deal with it. I got her to associate into the feeling. "Think about the shape of the feeling," I told her. "What shape is that feeling."
She is one of those clients who fidgets a lot, and moves around in the chair. I began to wonder if this method was going to work. Then she surprised me by saying "it's ovalish". So I asked, "How big is it?" She gestured with her hands to indicate that it was about the size of a dustbin lid. I asked some more clarifying questions and she told me "it's a big piece of coal."
I then started developing the metaphor of the "big piece of coal". She describes in detail has been black and shiny and heavy with lots of sharp angles. I then asked "can you make it a little bit bigger?" "Yes," she said. "And a little bit bigger still?" "Yes," she said. This told me that she actually had some control over it. I then asked "can you make it a little smaller?" "And a little smaller still?" There was a period of silence until she said "no, it won't get any smaller. It is just getting more dense."
She had now found her subconscious blockage. When a client says they cannot change a metaphor it means that there is something in their unconscious mind which is defending that. This is usually a fear of being unable to handle the change that might come afterwards.
So I changed my approach. I started to suggest to her ways that this thing could change. The idea was to keep suggesting things until I suggested something that her mind would accept. I tried suggesting hammers, drills, crushers, anything that would break up that "piece of coal". Nothing seemed to work. She steadfastly refused to think of anything that could affect this "piece of coal". I was running out of ideas until remembered that it was actually a piece of coal. Coal burns! So I suggested it might go on fire. She immediately said "no, that can't happen".
I wasn't sure what to do next and just waited for her to say something else. And then she said "it could be heated, and give off gas." Somehow, this was acceptable to her mind. I told her to go ahead and heat it. I then asked her "what is it like now?"
She said "it is grey and porous and quite weak."
I then went back to suggesting hammers, drills et cetera. And while I was going through the list of possible tools she said "It is all dust now." And I thought to myself "Job done."
So I asked her to think back to the bridge game and the feeling she had about not being good enough for her partner. "How does that seem to you now?" "Just the same," she said.
Revealing the real issue
Okay… I had seen this behaviour before. Her unconscious mind would not let me anywhere near the real problem. Instead it would offer me some minor metaphor and allow her to work through that. Her unconscious mind knew that it was safe to change that. But, it also means that her mind is now receptive to change, having experienced a minor change without danger.
So I started the whole process again. I got her to associate back into the original problem, to imagine being in that situation where she was sure that she was going to disappoint the other person and feel embarrassed. This time I had to work a lot harder to get past her defences. Eventually she told me "there is a big wooden box." Once again I got her to describe the object in detail. She told me that it was "very old, and very strong."
I then set about trying to find ways I could get her to destroy the box. Nothing seemed to work. I sensed that this time was up against a major piece of resistance. I suggested it might go transparent, that it might get wet and rot, it could get eaten by worms and fall apart. None of these produced any response. So I asked "what do you think might be in the box?"
After a long period she said "more boxes. There are more boxes inside."
"How many boxes?"
"There are five boxes", she said. I then got her to describe each of the boxes. She told me "the big one is made of cardboard. Then there's another one made of metal. And one made of glass. And another cardboard one. And a wooden one." It was now obvious from her demeanor that she had gone deep into trance, and was actually experiencing these things directly. And then she said "and there are papers, and files scattered around."
Burning the past
I did not know quite what to make of that, so I decided to explore the five boxes. "And what do you think is in those boxes?" And one by one she began to tell me about the contents of each box. The wooden box contains soil. The glass box contained a red light. The small cardboard box contained a wooden puzzle. The metal box took a long time to uncover. It turned out to be in two sections. The top section has five compartments, and each compartment was filled with a liquid colour. Each colour was different. I asked, "what do you think the are for?" She said, "I don't know."
So I suggested, "perhaps you can make something out of them?" She said, "yes, I think I might."
She then said "those papers have all the things I have done wrong in my life written on them. They are all neatly organised into files."
It took me a while to appreciate this startling development. So I asked her "what would you like to have happen to those papers and files?" She said "I suppose I could get rid of them?" I asked her "what would you use to get rid of them?" She said, " I could use the red light to burn them."
So I encouraged her, "and you can use the red light to burn them all up." And a lovely smile came over her face. I asked "what's happening in that place now?" She said, "they are all getting burned up, and I'm putting the ashes in the soil."
The time between her responses got longer and longer. And the smile on her face got broader and broader. She was clearly enjoying burning up all her old mistakes.
The time between responses got so long, that I went off and made a cup of tea. When I came back she was sitting there with her eyes open, smiling. She said, "I didn't want to come back. I was having such a good time playing with the red light and I can still feel it swirling around me."
I asked her, "And what about that old feeling of not being good enough?" And she said, "well, actually I think it's gone."
I finished the session then. I felt that she had undergone a profound change. And on the way out she said, "I'm looking forward to finding what's in the other compartment of metal box."
She told me a few days later, that she had a meeting with her boss. During the meeting she started to feel the old anxiety, but then felt her light around her, helping. She said that she did the whole interview feeling as if she was in charge.
I asked if that was the red light. She said, "it can change colour." It seems that this has become a new resource for her.
This transcript shows how a woman who could not say 'No' to food was changed through metaphor therapy. This woman would go to a party and obsess about food. She would spend her entire time trying to sneak food while others were talking around her. She thought about food all the time.
This transcript shows how metaphor therapy changed someone's attitude. This woman could not find the courage to refuse any request by other people. She felt constantly used and put upon, but somehow could not find a way to to say 'No'.
Related: Getting to No
OTHER METAPHOR RESOURCES