Working with metaphors in hypnotherapy training

One of the most exciting parts of my Diploma in Analytical Hypnotherapy and Hypnotherapy CPD courses is teaching people to listen to the metaphors which clients use and to work with these metaphors. Metaphor work is crucial within hypnotherapy, and utilising clients’ states of hypnosis, but before I go into more detail, I’d like to talk about an experience I had the other day which was deeply profound at a metaphorical level.

 A few days ago, after a busy day at work, I saw a dolphin in the wild. I should point out that I’m lucky enough to run my hypnotherapy practice and training school in Prestwick, on the west coast of Scotland, a few minutes from the sea. Apart from the occasional seal, and an abundance of sea birds, I haven’t seen any other sea life out there before. That night, the calm, mirror-like sea’s surface was broken by the movement of a dolphin, rhythmically making it’s appearance as it made it’s way south. I’d been feeling tired that evening, and had some non-work related stresses going on, and suddenly I felt rejuvenated. I walked as fast as I could, following the dolphin, feeling more energised and excited each time I saw its fin and smooth body appear and disappear.

 I’ve seen dolphins before, once in the wild swimming beside a boat I was on, and in captivity. And I was lucky enough to sea a whale of the coast of Shetland, but this particular sighting of the dolphin, unexpectedly, in the town where I live made a huge impact on me. Metaphorically, it reminded me that, although our worlds can become tied up with routine, seeing the same faces, doing the same things and sometimes feeling that our worlds are small and closed in, in fact there is a huge world out there. Just in that small stretch of water which I could see, there is so much life. I don’t know where that dolphin was heading, but possibly to places I’ve never been to. Metaphorically, seeing the dolphin reminded me of the vastness of life and how small and inconsequential those little issues I’d been facing that week really were.

 Back to how I teach metaphor work. Well, I think you can consider metaphors on two levels. On one level, we have what I’m going to call ‘universal metaphors’ – the types of metaphors which make sense on a cultural level. Dolphins could be one example. For many people, dolphins represent intelligence, playfulness, sociability, kindness, freedom and an association with water. Using a dolphin as a metaphor, when working with hypnotherapy clients, could be used to suggest all these qualities. Similarly, trees could be used to represent groundedness and strength. Clouds could be used to suggest constant change and flow. These universal types of metaphors can be used to introduce concepts at a deep and meaningful level when working with clients during therapy.

 Another way of working with metaphors is to really listen to the metaphors which clients use in a way which is very personal to them. For instance, going back to the dolphin, for me, it’s metaphorical significance was that it reminded me that there was a bigger world out there and not to get too caught up in my own, comparatively insignificant, issues. As a client, if I’d visited a hypnotherapist that week and talked about my experience of seeing the dolphin, it would have been very useful if she or he had used the imagery and feelings of seeing the dolphin with me in a state of hypnosis. To be effective, the hypnotherapist would have had to listen carefully to what the dolphin represented for me and to work with that imagery, incorporating suggestions that the world is bigger than I sometimes think, and to imagine the freedom of not getting caught up in my own small problems. Using the metaphors which clients use shows that you have listened carefully to them and – because the metaphors are how they make sense of their world – when you work within that same framework you create a powerful opportunity to create positive change.

 Metaphors go beyond simply words, to include images and bodily sensations, and working with the creative, imaginative mind under hypnosis provides a perfect chance for clients to experience their own metaphors in a unique, new way.

 Hypnotherapy training is so much more than learning how to give positive suggestions, and metaphor work opens up a whole new way of working with clients which is useful to therapists working in other fields too.