THE THERAPEUTIC VISUAL METAPHOR TOOL
The use of verbal metaphors was always part of my therapeutic work. During clinical sessions, I was able to clearly observe how using more understandable mental imagery helped clients make sense of their own difficulties and emotions. Communicating through metaphors allowed the patient to make sense of the situation and engage with their problems through different perspectives. I found it an efficient device to generate action plans and to facilitate the rapport-building process as well as the conceptualization and communication of abstract emotional states.
As I was also interested in visual art, I started to use visual aids and integrated photos, drawings, and illustrations into my work. I shortly observed how efficiently communication through pictures helps move therapy forward in “stuck” scenarios and while facilitating the expression of emotions that are otherwise difficult to verbalize.
Based on these clinical observation and present theoretical knowledge, METAFORA was created as a tool blending visual metaphors with a structured solution-focused method. As such, METAFORA was inspired by different theoretical approaches, such as cognitive-behavioural approaches – including acceptance and commitment therapy, systemic therapy as well as solution-focused brief therapy.
METAFORA IS A THERAPEUTIC ACTIVITY BASED ON A SOLUTION-FOCUSED METHOD AND A SET OF ILLUSTRATION CARDS.
METAFORA has been developed as a psychological tool to enhance the psychotherapy or mental health counselling process. This is achieved by clarifying the client’s problems as well as the solution process through visual metaphor illustration cards. The METAFORA tool utilizes the novel SABRA Method to provide a structured 5-step solution-oriented therapeutic activity. The METAFORA cards provide visual aids using images based on different psychological themes. The METAFORA tool aims to enhance mental representation, to evoke emotional responses, and to generate expanded consideration of problem-solving thinking while integrating visual metaphors into therapy and counselling. The use of METAFORA in professional practice can empower clients to commit themselves to new ways of elaborating issues in their life and their emotions.
We use metaphors daily in our language. Metaphors have the power to convey specific and content-rich information in a concise and easily understandable manner. Due to their strong pictorial elements, metaphors can describe concepts or emotions that are otherwise difficult to verbalize. They help communicate rich and complex information about personal experiences. They are not only linguistic devices but also vivid ways of thinking about many abstract concepts in our physical, emotional, and social world.
Metaphors often occur in psychotherapy and mental health counselling to describe different mental and emotional states. They also give professionals a lens on how the client cognitively organizes, understands, and conceptualizes their inner and outer world. They are functioning as mental bridges to the client’s inner world giving us a better understanding about their emotions.
The visual metaphor card deck consists of 30 cards. Each card has a consistent artistic style and includes human figures as well as surrealistic imagery. The artistic style was carefully chosen with surrealistic elements as these can evoke greater imagination and emotional reactions, both of which can be beneficial during the solution process from step 1 through step 5. The cards facilitate a dynamic process where an individual’s needs, emotions, conflicts, and/or personal meanings can resonate with the theme of a given card. The cards can evoke an emotional response or a high level of interest, representing the client’s understanding of their internal world.
The cards serve the function of creating visual images that can represent any of the themes of the 5 steps. The client is asked to choose those cards (illustrations) that best represent their current Situation, desired Achievements, Barriers, Resources, and Actions (i.e., SABRA).
The SABRA method is a therapeutic activity based on an integrative approach, inspired by different theoretical frameworks, such as cognitive-behavioural approaches, including acceptance and commitment therapy, systemic therapy as well as solution-focused brief therapy.
It focuses on the “here and now” and guides clients through a 5 step approach that starts with the identification of a desired concrete goal or a more abstract desired emotional state. The aim is to identify the inner steps that might help a client in the understanding of their current situation and facilitate to clarify the therapeutic direction or personal goals to be reached.
METAFORA is a tool that aims to build a visual path with the client between their difficulties and their desired goals, while identifying their obstacles, their resources, and the concrete actions to be taken to create changes in their daily lives. The Method invites patients to choose the illustrations that best represent their Situation, Aspirations, Barriers, Resources and Actions (the 5 SABRA steps).
The illustrated cards allow the client to project the beliefs and emotions of their inner world. Individualized interpretations of the illustrations can represent and used at any of the 5 steps. The METAFORA tool combines the advantages of the Method and the Cards, allowing the patient to express themselves through visual metaphors and to move through a problem-solving process.
METAFORA was initially designed for psychologists and psychotherapists but can be used by all mental health professionals.
The tool and the method are not limited to a theoretical approach or a specific target population. METAFORA can be used in cognitive-behavioural therapy, systemic or psychodynamic therapy, art therapy, integrative approaches as well as in other interventions conducted by mental health care professionals.
The purpose of the METAFORA tool is to facilitate communication and the expression of thoughts and emotions in the context of therapeutic or counselling work.
The metaphorical illustrations facilitate the expression of the client’s emotions and cognitions. They are a device for accessing issues that are sometimes difficult for the client to address (such as trauma), or concepts that they are not clearly aware of (such as attachment issues). The cards allow access to the client’s internal world to bring out thoughts and emotions that are otherwise difficult to verbalize during sessions.
The SABRA method is a problem-solving process, where the client evolves from their problem to their goals. Through the 5 steps, the client will identify their barriers and personal resources, while transforming them into concrete actions for positive change. This allows the therapist to move forward in the therapy as well as to unblock certain situations that create a “stuck” scenario.
At the end of the 5 steps, the cards selected by the client will be arranged in front of them, creating a visual bridge between the current situation and the desired goal. This final arrangement allows the patient to visualize their own path, which promotes stronger commitment to the process of change.
Thus, with METAFORA, the client will tell their story through images, which allows the therapist to better identify the person’s difficulties and resources as well as to guide them towards sustainable change.
METAFORA cards can provoke strong emotions in clients. For this reason, the professional must have the necessary clinical skills and framework to be able to respond to such a mental and emotional process.
Therefore, it is necessary that the person using METAFORA has a background in psychology or has adequate training in the medical-social field.