Types metaphors play an important role in the

Types of Metaphors

aim of metaphor usage in therapy is for clients to gather information about
their own subjective experience, not necessarily for the therapist to
understand it. This allows the client new perspectives and allows them to
increase their awareness of their own process (Tompkins & Lawley, 1997). Lyddon, Clay, and Sparks (2001) stated that metaphors
play an important role in the following developmental change processes in
counselling: building a safe and secure relationship, accessing and symbolizing
emotions, challenging clients’ assumptions, working with resistance and
creating new frames of reference. They note, however, for change to take place,
it is vital for the therapist to recognize and address the metaphors as they

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(1996) observed eight different types of metaphors including: stories,
anecdotes, analogies, tasks and rituals, relationship and artistic metaphors
and metaphorical objects. He claimed that all metaphors are designed to change
the meaning of something, they “offer different understandings of situations;
of people’s views of themselves or others; of relationships; of how problems
may be solved; or of our past experiences; or of what the future may hold for
us” (p.41).

& Johnson (2003) claimed that metaphors can generally be divided into three
main categories: orientational, ontological and structural:

– give the idea of movement. They point to different directions; up or down,
under or over, in front and behind, to name a few. For example, happy is up,
sad is down. They can also be referred to as predicative metaphors as they are
related to verbs or actions. These types of metaphors are often used to
understand abstract concepts such as emotions.

– involve ways of viewing intangible concepts, such as feelings and ideas as
concrete substances, for example, ‘the computer went dead on me’. As
substances, we can categorize them, group them and speak about them. An example
of this would be, ‘his criticisms were right on target’.

– the function of these metaphors is to enable clients to understand the target
by means of the source. This understanding takes place through conceptual
mappings between elements of the target and the source. For example, ‘Life is a
journey’, where life is target and journey is the source.


studies support the character of the orientational metaphor. Schubert (2005)
reported on the idea that orientational metaphors are used when talking about
power, for example, high status or to
have control over. In one study,
participants were divided into two groups and each were asked to decide, as
fast as possible, which group was most powerful. Both groups were displayed on
a screen, one above the other, and the author noted participants were quicker
to identify a powerful group when it was at the top rather than when it was at
the bottom of a pair. The author concluded that orientational representations
of power can influence power judgments.

Langston (2002), in his investigation of orientational metaphors, found that
texts inconsistent with the “more is up – less is down” metaphor, were more
difficult to understand and yielded slower response times than texts that were
consistent with the metaphor. However, there were limitations in this study due
to reports that some participants did not read all the texts, skipping to the
parts they deemed necessary to read. It was noted that when they found an
easier way to complete the task, they took it. As a result of this research,
the author suggested that orientational metaphors were more useful than
structural metaphors as the former to be applied to a wider variety of


Metaphors and Emotion

The therapeutic process requires a focus on the
emotional experience of clients and involves developing clients’ recognition of
their emotional patterns and needs. The exploration of clients’ emotional
experiences and establishing “links between self and environment” plays a
pivotal role in the emotional change process (Greenberg, Rice,
& Elliott, 1993, p.54).

(1996) claims that one of the most challenging aspects of the counselling process
is helping clients understand and explore their intangible thoughts and
feelings, and express them with tangible words. In these cases, metaphors prove to be useful tools for
helping clients access emotions that may have been previously unexpressed or
unexplored. Fox (1989), noted that metaphors are comparisons that make tangible
what is vague and abstract, they help to expand the client’s emotional
awareness by symbolically expressing hidden emotional content”

Tay (2014) advised it is important to note that when accessing and symbolising
emotions, the counsellor should be prepared to direct clients towards new
‘frames of reference’, in the event that the prevailing metaphors are found


suggested that one approach to provide a new frame of reference was to
procedurally develop the clients’ metaphor. Researchers (Kopp & Craw, 1998;
Sims & Whynot, 1997) have recommended step-by-step procedures which will be
outlined later in this paper.

Korman & Angus (2000, p.23) suggested that a client’s use of metaphors is
an indicator of progress in therapy by noting “these expressions can function
to facilitate insight, to provide new solutions and to enhance communication
and working alliance.” In their analysis of treatments in depression, they
focused on the use of metaphor as a marker of change. Results showed positive
outcomes in the sessions where the metaphorical experiences were transformed
into more positive experiences, for example, ‘carrying a burden’ evolved into
the experience of ‘unloading a burden’ and the authors found, after 14
sessions, this client began to feel relieved of her depression. Although this
study was limited due to its focus on only one dyad from each outcome
condition, the findings highlight the importance of exploring and reframing
metaphors to aid the process of emotional change.

her 2004 qualitative study, Thompson investigated the metaphors used by ten
participants in their process of recovery from psychological and emotional
distress. Thompson noted that the participants used metaphors to communicate
their recovery stories and by sharing aspects of their recovery they were able
to access power to name their experience. While there were positive outcomes
for all participants, Thompson suggested there is a need for further research
on metaphors used in recovery narratives.

Because emotions are at the core
of counselling, the connection between emotions and metaphors needs more investigation
(Wagener, 2017). According to Levitt et al., (2000, p.24), “metaphors can more accurately
capture the quality of an emotion than an adjective or an emotional label.” Most
research to date has shown that the use of clients’ metaphors is connected to
emotional change, and there is support for an increased occurrence of metaphors
when talking about intense emotions (Crawford, 2009; Fainsilber & Ortony,