Types of MetaphorsTheaim of metaphor usage in therapy is for clients to gather information abouttheir own subjective experience, not necessarily for the therapist tounderstand it. This allows the client new perspectives and allows them toincrease their awareness of their own process (Tompkins & Lawley, 1997).
Lyddon, Clay, and Sparks (2001) stated that metaphorsplay an important role in the following developmental change processes incounselling: building a safe and secure relationship, accessing and symbolizingemotions, challenging clients’ assumptions, working with resistance andcreating 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 theyoccur. Barker(1996) observed eight different types of metaphors including: stories,anecdotes, analogies, tasks and rituals, relationship and artistic metaphorsand metaphorical objects. He claimed that all metaphors are designed to changethe meaning of something, they “offer different understandings of situations;of people’s views of themselves or others; of relationships; of how problemsmay be solved; or of our past experiences; or of what the future may hold forus” (p.41).Lakoff& Johnson (2003) claimed that metaphors can generally be divided into threemain categories: orientational, ontological and structural:Orientational- 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 arerelated to verbs or actions. These types of metaphors are often used tounderstand abstract concepts such as emotions. Ontological– involve ways of viewing intangible concepts, such as feelings and ideas asconcrete substances, for example, ‘the computer went dead on me’. Assubstances, we can categorize them, group them and speak about them. An exampleof this would be, ‘his criticisms were right on target’.Structural- the function of these metaphors is to enable clients to understand the targetby means of the source.
This understanding takes place through conceptualmappings between elements of the target and the source. For example, ‘Life is ajourney’, where life is target and journey is the source.3Severalstudies support the character of the orientational metaphor. Schubert (2005)reported on the idea that orientational metaphors are used when talking aboutpower, for example, high status or tohave control over.
In one study,participants were divided into two groups and each were asked to decide, asfast as possible, which group was most powerful. Both groups were displayed ona screen, one above the other, and the author noted participants were quickerto identify a powerful group when it was at the top rather than when it was atthe bottom of a pair. The author concluded that orientational representationsof power can influence power judgments.Similarly,Langston (2002), in his investigation of orientational metaphors, found thattexts inconsistent with the “more is up – less is down” metaphor, were moredifficult to understand and yielded slower response times than texts that wereconsistent with the metaphor. However, there were limitations in this study dueto reports that some participants did not read all the texts, skipping to theparts they deemed necessary to read. It was noted that when they found aneasier way to complete the task, they took it.
As a result of this research,the author suggested that orientational metaphors were more useful thanstructural metaphors as the former to be applied to a wider variety ofsituations. Metaphors and Emotion The therapeutic process requires a focus on theemotional experience of clients and involves developing clients’ recognition oftheir emotional patterns and needs. The exploration of clients’ emotionalexperiences and establishing “links between self and environment” plays apivotal role in the emotional change process (Greenberg, Rice,& Elliott, 1993, p.54).
Carlsen(1996) claims that one of the most challenging aspects of the counselling processis helping clients understand and explore their intangible thoughts andfeelings, and express them with tangible words. In these cases, metaphors prove to be useful tools forhelping clients access emotions that may have been previously unexpressed orunexplored. Fox (1989), noted that metaphors are comparisons that make tangiblewhat is vague and abstract, they help to expand the client’s emotionalawareness by symbolically expressing hidden emotional content” DennisTay (2014) advised it is important to note that when accessing and symbolisingemotions, the counsellor should be prepared to direct clients towards new’frames of reference’, in the event that the prevailing metaphors are foundwanting. 4Hesuggested that one approach to provide a new frame of reference was toprocedurally develop the clients’ metaphor. Researchers (Kopp & Craw, 1998;Sims & Whynot, 1997) have recommended step-by-step procedures which will beoutlined later in this paper.Levitt,Korman & Angus (2000, p.23) suggested that a client’s use of metaphors isan indicator of progress in therapy by noting “these expressions can functionto facilitate insight, to provide new solutions and to enhance communicationand working alliance.” In their analysis of treatments in depression, theyfocused on the use of metaphor as a marker of change.
Results showed positiveoutcomes in the sessions where the metaphorical experiences were transformedinto more positive experiences, for example, ‘carrying a burden’ evolved intothe experience of ‘unloading a burden’ and the authors found, after 14sessions, this client began to feel relieved of her depression. Although thisstudy was limited due to its focus on only one dyad from each outcomecondition, the findings highlight the importance of exploring and reframingmetaphors to aid the process of emotional change.Inher 2004 qualitative study, Thompson investigated the metaphors used by tenparticipants in their process of recovery from psychological and emotionaldistress. Thompson noted that the participants used metaphors to communicatetheir recovery stories and by sharing aspects of their recovery they were ableto access power to name their experience.
While there were positive outcomesfor all participants, Thompson suggested there is a need for further researchon metaphors used in recovery narratives. Because emotions are at the coreof counselling, the connection between emotions and metaphors needs more investigation(Wagener, 2017). According to Levitt et al., (2000, p.
24), “metaphors can more accuratelycapture the quality of an emotion than an adjective or an emotional label.” Mostresearch to date has shown that the use of clients’ metaphors is connected toemotional change, and there is support for an increased occurrence of metaphorswhen talking about intense emotions (Crawford, 2009; Fainsilber & Ortony,1987).