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How psychologists can use abstract metaphors with clients

Abstract metaphors

Table of Contents

Have you ever come across a client who was just not able to define their problem. Some who started with

  1. I don’t know why am I here or
  2. I don’t know where to start or Something like
  3. I know there is a problem I can feel it in my gut but I don’t know what it is or why I feel this way?

If you are a psychologist or a coach, either you have already come across someone like this or sooner or later you will. This means it will be very useful to know how to proceed with these clients. So that they can understand and verbalise their problems or current situation clearly.

One of the best ways to work with these clients is with the help of Abstract Metaphors or Projective Metaphors. Before I tell you what abstract metaphors are, go ahead and subscribe to this channel so that we can share more valuable resources that will help you develop powerful therapeutic skills.

What is an abstract or a projective metaphor?

Abstract metaphor is a process where we draw something really abstract or random and then ask clients to create meaning out of it. Because the drawing is abstract, the client’s mind has to fill in the details to make sense of the drawing. In order to ensure that the meaning the client creates is in sync with the client’s current problem or situation, we guide the client with a step-by-step process.

Step-by-step process to use abstract metaphors with clients

  1. The first step is to ask the client: “Close your eyes, take three deep breaths and then think about what you would like to discuss with me. Think about the thoughts, the emotions, the events, or the things that made you realise that this need to connect with me.”
    Remember, you are just asking the client to think and not asking them to verbalise their thoughts, feelings, or problems.
  2. The second step is to draw something abstract on a piece of paper or a board while the client is thinking with their eyes closed. If you are working via online video meeting software, share your screen and draw something on the whiteboard of the software you are using. Remember, the drawing needs to be abstract. So what I do is I randomly draw lines and curves on the screen in a way that some of the lines and curves overlap.
  3. The third step is to ask the client, “open your eyes and identify at least 3 things, maybe shapes or items or objects, in the drawing.” What you are asking them to do is very similar to what children do when they see shapes in clouds. Once the client identifies 3 things, objects or shapes, ask them to identify two more and request them to mark the things they have identified.
  4. The fourth step after identification of the shapes, items, or objects is to ask the client “I would like you to create a story that contains all these 5 things that you have identified.”
    After the client creates the story, ask them “if you were a part of this story what would you be doing or what role are you playing in this story.”
    Once the client tells us the role they are playing in the story,
  5. The fifth step in the abstract metaphor process is to ask them, “think about this story and help me understand how this story relates to what is happening in your life and the problem that you would like to work with”.
    Now that the client has been able to verbalise how this story relates to their problem or current situation, ask them to define their problem using the format we discussed in the last two videos (QT4T Ep 3 & Ep 4).
Abstract metaphors

That’s it. You have helped the client define their problem clearly and effectively with the help of abstract metaphors.

Simple isn’t it? It’s not only simple but highly effective.

I have had therapists coming back and telling me that even clients who after hours of interview and rapport-building activities were not able to get clarity about their problems, were actually able to describe their problem clearly in a way that they resonated after the abstract metaphors process.

Now that you know, how to work with clients who are not clear what the problem is in the first place, with the help of abstract metaphors, I want you to think about why do this process work, and how abstract metaphors are helping clients get clarity about their own problems?

In our next video, we will shift our focus to helping clients define their desired outcome quickly. If you would like to be notified about the next video, do watch this space and follow us.

If you are a coach or aspiring to be one who wants to make it big, we would really recommend that you explore and understand the Cognitive Hypnotic Coaching framework

If you are already convinced and want to just know how can you become a Cognitive Hypnotic Coach, check out our Comprehensive Coaching Diploma