Switch to Accessible Site

Registered Play Therapist,

          Certified by the Association for Play Therapy

Family Therapy Session

Metaphors, an Effective Means of Communication

September 12, 2016

    Perspective of a situation determines a person’s future, therefore it is crucial to have a positive perception of life no matter how bleak the circumstances may seem.  Children or adults who are trapped in a seemingly hopeless position are unable to see their condition as temporary; metaphors reframe their circumstances by providing them with the choice of being a victim or a hero.  “The School of Tough Knocks,” is an expression used to describe the unparalleled strength a person gains from surviving difficult situations he/she endures during his/her life.  A child must have the social support of an adult who will help him/her internalize this concept, and an adult must have the social support that reminds and encourages him/her throughout the traumatic period.

    Alex is a product of a teenage pregnancy whose father maintains minimum contact with him and his mother has since married, had a child and perceives him as a shameful reminder of the past she prefers to forget.  The reality of Alex’s situation was that he was unable to please his mother since his essence was humiliating to her, this condition would not change.  The therapist in this case had to help Alex transcend his environment and recognize that his childhood is a small fraction of his life; the goal of therapy is to help Alex see himself through objective eyes that are not tainted with shame.  Therefore, the therapist used examples of famous people such as Thomas Edison and Isaac Newton whose teachers or parents did not think highly of them, yet they created inventions and discovered brilliant math theories.  Furthermore, the therapist challenged the teenager to find any famous person with great accomplishments who did not have a difficult childhood; the therapist proceeded to have Alex tell her how television’s superheroes were created, overcoming tragedies and great difficulties.  The initial phase of therapy was to have the patient recognize that a superhero lies dormant in every person; the power of a superhero is derived from conquering his monumental challenges since superhuman strength is needed to succeed.

    Metaphors are a means of visualizing an abstract concept; the appropriate metaphor for Alex’s case was fighting against being drowned by quicksand.  Quicksand is an element of sand that swallows anything or anyone it contacts; the initial instinct of a person to extricate himself is to fight against its current.  However, the more you fight against the current the more it envelopes the person and sucks him/her inside sinking the person deeper and deeper inside the ground.  The person who is in this unfortunate position must fight the instinct of using his natural inclination and stop fighting the current.  He should float with the current which will eventually spit him onto dry ground.  Alex needed to stop trying to see himself through his mother’s eyes since he was unable to please her; he needed to seek nurturing from his grandmother and cultivate his close relationship with his sister who found herself in the same predicament in addition to focusing on his future.  Alex was able to internalize this concept since therapy was his safe haven; he managed to become head of band and his grades dramatically improved enough for him to be on the honor roll. 
    Therapy does not change the person’s circumstances; Alex’s mother refused to speak to the therapist regarding her role as a parent; she bluntly told the therapist, “He is all yours.  You fix him.”  However, therapy is able to change a person’s perspective of the problem; Alex was able to arrive at his own conclusion that his mother is very self-centered and has her own emotional problems that interfere with properly nurturing him and his sister.  However, he does not have to jeopardize his bright future; it is his choice to be a superhero.