Gathering the Ingredients
Over the years of being in clinical practice, I have come to appreciate the beauty and power of the stories we tell. Learning about others through their telling of a life story has afforded me the opportunity to develop greater understanding of the varied nature of people and how the brain helps store information.
When people come in to seek therapy, they are often in a place of being overwhelmed and trapped in a way of thinking of themselves and their lives that has brought great pain, sadness, and loss. Often the initial story that is shared with me is what is known as the problem-saturated story in Narrative practice. People share the story of their life that includes aspects of their life and personality that have led to dissatisfaction and personal conflict. People know this story so well that it becomes challenging to see or experience much else. Life's stresses and fears flood the system and create mental, emotional, and physical blocks to the person's natural ability to problem solve.
Being stuck in a problem-saturated story becomes increasingly painful and can create anxiety, anger, depression, and/or numbness. The over-arching goal of therapy is to assist an individual with identifying a richer, more complex story of their life and what has shaped them. The goal is not to eliminate or forget the problem-saturated story, but to gain a more balanced and realistic depiction of the individual and their experience.
Speaking isn’t neutral or passive. Every time we speak, we bring forth a reality. Each time we share words we give legitimacy to the distinctions that those words bring forth.– Freedman and Combs
One of the most powerful tools that I have found in working with my clients has been the use of metaphor. Providing an opportunity for the brain to take a personal issue and externalize it allows the client to gain more space between their experience of the self and their experience of the problem. Narrative practice is clear that the person is not the problem. Using imagery, memory, and words not only creates a connection between the felt experience of the emotion and an external image but also allows for a more tangible connection between the therapist and client. Expressing emotion states, interpersonal challenges, and impulses through the use of metaphor creates an opportunity for increased empowerment and confidence to speak on the issue, have a shared understanding, and gain clarity on how the individual has faced something like this before -- even if it's in a different "costume." In my clinical experience, I have found the use of metaphor to help establish rapport quickly, increase my personal understanding of the client's situation, and allow for the creation of shared language surrounding the experience.
Personally, I have found a very natural fit with the tenets of Narrative practice and have found it to be the most effective clinical platform for my personality. As I was driving home from work the other day, I began processing the day with my clients and began a mental inventory of all the metaphors and images that I routinely use to explain concepts, connect inner experience to outer world, and (if I'm being honest) to occasionally bring some much needed levity to a session.
My hope through this process is to continue to gather and catalog the various metaphors that I use and provide some ideas for how each image can be used and expanded within the clinical relationship. My decision to begin this exercise is, truthfully, just as much for me as anyone else. In the rush of a busy week, I often lament feeling rushed and unable to take a step back from the work to see it from a different angle. It is my hope that other people are able to take something away from these ideas and begin to find ways to use metaphor in their own lives and/or clinical work. If nothing else, just some food for thought from my brain to yours.