NLP Metaphors - are they what you think?


NLP metaphors are an interesting if often misunderstood concept.

In the simplest form of NLP metaphor the therapist simply transfers the clients problem onto another animate or inanimate object, then explains how the object solved the problem - ‘The rock was sad, but then the rock though 'ah screw it!'.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I'm sure you wouldn't really fall for it!

On a more complex level, spoken NLP metaphors are covered wonderfully in David Gordon's book 'Therapeutic Metaphors', and in this case his metaphors are wonderfully deep and well woven, and his text better than anything I could manage. If you really want to understand how to develop deep and complex metaphors then there is no better place to start the David Gordon's book.

Since I became interested in NLP I realized that there are many other elements of NLP that are never referred to as metaphors, but I believe clearly are metaphor based and these are used throughout many NLP techniques such as submodalities and content interactions as well as timeline work.

For instance, the use of a catapult or slingshot (see the NLP exercise - Mommy, make it go away!), to internally send an image away - isn't that a metaphor?

The way a client takes a resource into the future on their timeline? Isn't that a metaphor? In fact, couldn't you say that a timeline itself is an NLP metaphor.

Neither of these concepts 'do' anything, but your brain calculates what the meaning should be - this seems to be the definition of a metaphor to me. Let me give you an example that happened to me many years ago on an NLP training. Myself and another course member were doing an exercise based around strength testing - hold your arm out and imagine a rod of iron or whatever strengthening your arm. It's a fairly standard strength test and is often used by people trying to demonstrate subjects such as aromatherapy or homeopathy (what this implies about aromatherapy or homeopathy when you can get the same results imagining an iron bar I'll let you decide). Where the exercise became interesting was when we replaced the iron bar with a Laser Beam. 'Imagine a laser beam traveling down through your arm, coming from your finger tips and going right across the room. This created a nice strong arm, but within the metaphor lied its weakness, Simply by cupping your hand around the finger tips of the clients outstretched hand cut the beam, making the arm strength disappear immediately.

Using these kind of ideas is cool, but one of the keys with this kind of NLP metaphor is that you must be sure of the implied rules. I remember listening to someone deal with a person who felt that their feelings were overwhelming. The therapist had them imagine their feelings contained within a slot machine as a large number of balls. They asked the client to pull the handle of the slot machine to release a single ball. Of course I (and the client's unconscious) were well ahead of the game here. When the client stated that they pulled the handle and ended up waist deep in balls, neither I nor the client were surprised. Strangely the therapist was confused but it was quite obvious really.

Taking this one step further, what about submodalities? Doesn't the idea of turning down the brightness on an image to lessen it's impact make perfect sense? Does the shift work because there is a neurological change or because we react to the suggestion in a metaphorical way? Answers on a postcard ...


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