A lot of my clients are anxious about their financial security. Can metaphors help? C. C., Denver, CO
In today’s difficult economic times, many people are stressed out about their circumstances. If you are a helping professional working with struggling or anxious clients, you’ll be glad to learn that metaphors can help. Wondering how that could be, when jobs are in jeopardy and bills need to be paid now?
While metaphors aren’t likely to cause employers to start hiring again (actually, they could…but that’s a subject for another blog), you can help clients develop vivid metaphors for an inner state or way of feeling to feel more resourceful and more hopeful now. If your client can summon more optimism, feel more in control, or find strength to face a storm, s/he will reduce the flow of stress hormones in his/her body, a benefit in multiple ways, and have more energy to devote to problem-solving… and joyful living.
You can take these four simple steps to discover and strengthen a supporting inner resource:
- Ask your client to recall another time when s/he felted stressed about a challenge. What personal quality or characteristic(s) did s/he use to cope? It might, for example, have been courage, an ability to stay calm, or stubbornness.
- Get a metaphor for that quality with a simple question. If the client says, “Well, I guess I was brave,” you ask, “If you were to draw a picture of that brave, what would it look like?” Invite your client to actually draw it or just describe it aloud. Perhaps s/he would draw a surfer riding a huge wave or a lion tamer with a whip and chair, controlling a roaring lion.
- Help your client get a vividly detailed picture of this resource by asking these simple questions about what s/he describes. Use only the exact words/short phrases s/he uses! The point is to get your client more familiar with and to strengthen his/her own resource, not to make suggestions about what you think would be helpful–and that includes adding or changing even small details!
- Is there anything else about that [client’s word]?
- What kind of [client’s word or phrase] is that?
- Where is that [resource word]? O the inside? On the outside?
Examples: Is there anything else about that “surfer”? What kind of “riding” is that “riding”? Where inside is that “brave”? On the inside? On the outside?
Keep on asking “what kind of…” , “anything else about…” ? and “where is… ?” questions until your client has a well-developed metaphor, full of sensory details.
4. Encourage your client to return to this image whenever s/he want to feel that resourceful way again.
And if you try this exercise with a client, comment here on how it goes!