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Therapeutic metaphor

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Therapeutic metaphor is a specialized use of metaphor. It often involves not a simple sentence, rather it involves a story or other parallel to an entire aspect of a situation. Thus a therapist told about the untimely death of a loved one, might respond by describing two roses in a garden, one of which is dug up. The purpose of this is to highlight to a person, in an effective way, some aspects and lessons that otherwise they might not be able to perceive as clearly in their current situation, or to suggest new outlooks on it.

In his book, Guru: Metaphors from a psychotherapist, Sheldon Kopp states: "Generally, a metaphor is defined as a way of speaking in which one thing is expressed in terms of another, whereby this bringing together throws new light on the character of what is being described." (p.17)

Two influential figures in modern use of metaphor are: George Lakoff, one of America's foremost linguists, and Milton Erickson, the so-called "father of modern hypnotherapy". Both have emphasized strongly the crucial place that metaphor holds in human communication and experience. The use of therapeutic metaphor is strongly analysed at an advanced level within neuro-linguistic programming.

Erickson, in particular, viewed much of human communication as metaphor, and his recorded metaphors (of which many volumes exist) are considered extremely rich grounds for analysis by hypnotherapists and others insofar as they communicate on so many levels simultaneously.

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