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3. Metaphor Room

Entering the Metaphor Room in the Clean Collection is like entering a parallel universe. Metaphor comes in many forms. The kind of metaphor you'll find exhibited in this room is called ‘autogenic’ – the ‘self-generated’, naturally occurring metaphors people use all the time.  Behind those seemingly throw-away phrases lies a rich symbolic world vital to our health and well-being.

Sometimes language is explicitly metaphorical: “I don’t know which path to take in my life,” or “Something’s blocking my development,” or “My heart’s beating like a drum.”  Most of the time, however, our use of metaphor is more subtle and unconsciously embedded in our everyday language: “What’s come between us?” or “Business is on the up” or “I feel upset.

When James Lawley and I (Penny Tompkins) discovered Metaphors we Live By, the book that ignited the cognitive linguistics revolution in 1980, it changed our thinking forever. The authors, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson say "The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another." Metaphors are not just linguistic turns of phrase, they are embodied in our neurology.  They are not arbitrary — they contain a consistency that both reflect and constrain what they represent.  This means that as our metaphors change and evolve, our perceptions of what they represent in our life change and evolve as well.

Recent research showed that in a classroom one word in 40 was a metaphor, one word in 20 in a doctor-patient consultation, and one word in 10 in an emotion-laden conversation.  This means we utter between 2 and 10 metaphors per minute!

David Grove pioneered the use of client-generated metaphor in therapy in the 1980s and continued to innovate right up until his death in 2008. The significance of David's contribution is only just being recognised, and it may be several decades before his clinical research and theories about how people change are fully acknowledged.

As important as metaphors are for psychotherapy, counselling and coaching, they are more than a medium for change. For example, we have used a gallery metaphor to create the kind of experience we want visitors to this web site to have. If you want to see some of the other creative ways people have made use of self-generated metaphor in education, business, health, etc. visit the Applications Room

If you pause in this room you might like to read our Coaching with Metaphor — an introductory article which contains a lot of information in a small package (to use a couple of metaphors!) — or get a sense of how a metaphor changes and evolves in Mind, Metaphor and Health.

And when you're ready, please follow me into the Symbolic Modelling Room.

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Symbolic Modelling

James Lawley
Penny Tompkins

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