By Dr. Alcia Freeman
The counseling process can be likened to a journey, a journey of self-discovery. I intentionally said self-discovery because I believe that true and lasting change occurs from the inside out, not the reverse. This is not to say that external factors cannot serve as a catalyst for change. I see the counselor’s role as being that catalyst for the client. For me, that means being a calm presence in the midst of the client’s storm. Similar to using words like journey and storm to represent life struggles we all face, metaphors help make the complex simple.
The helping profession, like many others, uses metaphors in their work. Neilson (2015) warns against using metaphors to oversimplify pain. However, metaphors can help counselors and clients share common terminology as they work towards mutually agreed-upon goals. In fact, employing the groundwork of Indigenous Holism and holistic education, Pearl (2018) highlighted the benefits of using a container as a metaphor to explore social and psychological fragmentation. Taking both positions into consideration, I propose that counselors and clients can use blankets, bridges, and bandages as metaphorical tools in the healing process.
Three Healing Metaphors
With everything going on in our world today, we all have moments when we want to get in bed and pull the covers over our heads. We need the comfort of a blanket. In those moments, the blanket acts as a symbolic shield from whatever is going on in the outside world. It provides a sense of safety during the cold, scary, and stormy times in our lives. The therapeutic relationship between a counselor and client built on empathy, respect, trust, honesty, transparency, nonjudgment, and unconditional positive regard can become the metaphorical blanket.
Sometimes the noise in the world, our minds, and the demands of our daily lives leave little to no room to figure out a way to get from where we are to where we want to be. Life can leave us feeling like there is an insurmountable body of water between us and our goals. That is where the help of a good therapist comes into play. Counselors and clients work together to get to the root of the client's concern and create a plan to help them achieve their wellness goals. The counselor and client's therapeutic working relationship becomes the metaphoric bridge to get the client to their stated goals.
The pearl of wisdom, "Hurt people hurt people," has been credited to various people over the years (Phelan, 2019). Similar to the lack of clarity surrounding the origins of the adage, the source of pain is not always clear. What is clear is that an uninterrupted cycle of pain will show up in our lives in unexpected ways. We end up hurting the people we care about the most. To break the cycle, we need tools. Counselors can aid clients by acknowledging the hurt, identifying the ways it presents itself in your life, and teaching you the tools required to address the pain. Think of the tools to address pain as a metaphor for a bandage covering a wound as it heals.
When used correctly, metaphors can be a powerful healing tool. In fact, metaphors enhance the counseling process. Whether working with clients, supervisees, or students, I use blankets, bridges, and bandages as metaphors for what people need at various times in their lives to help them on their wellness journey.
If you or someone you know are ready to start the wellness journey, reach out to me by clicking the contact link on this page, and I will walk with you through the process.
American Counseling Association
The National Board for Certified Counselors
Neilson, S. (2016). Pain as metaphor: metaphor and medicine. Medical humanities, 42(1), 3- 10.
Pearl, T. (2018). From fragmentation to wholeness: Containers for healing. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 16(1), 36-52.
Phelan, M. (2019, September 17). The history of “hurt people hurt people”. Slate.