A Metaphor

One of my favorite metaphors for the care a clinician, teacher or parent can provide came about during a visit with a young teenager.

Trevor had been struggling with anxiety and depression and chronic health problems for years, but had found very little help available to him.  Even as he was learning hypnosis, Trevor doubted himself and his ability to find a healthy new normal. We discussed this at length in his sessions, and I told him I was confident he was getting better, and added, “I’ll believe in you until you’re strong enough to believe in yourself.”

He looked puzzled, then sad.

“I don’t think it works that way,” he said.

In the moment, a new metaphor presented itself, an idea and an image I hoped he could associate with the perception of steady improvement.

“When you break a bone,” I asked, “how does a cast help?”

“It protects the bone,” he answered, an unspoken obviously implied in his tone.

“Yes, but how exactly does the bone heal?”

Trevor thought about this a moment before responding. “The body heals it.”

 “So . . . what does the cast do?” 

“It helps the bone stay in place.”

“That’s exactly right,” I nodded. “For now, I will act as your cast. I’ll stabilize you until your mind heals itself.”

At this, Trevor gave me a wide and genuine smile, a rare gift from a child who’d been feeling adrift for such a long time.

“I like that,” he said.

“I like it, too.  And I’m looking forward to it.”

Those few moments gave Trevor an idea he could hold, one that trusted in his inner power, one that reassured him he was not alone, one that subtly implied his body and his doctor and the universe would all work in concert to help him get better. This was hypnosis in its simplest form—planting of an idea that would grow and bloom and offer a child a way to first visualize and then realize a world in which he felt well.