Metaphors Built On Imagination

I often find that when trainees first begin to work with metaphor therapy, one of the most common concerns is "I don't have the imagination." So here is some good news: You don't have to be an imaginative person to use metaphor therapy. A few artistic, creative people seem to be endowed with this skill, whereas for most of us it comes with patience, persistence and practice. If you have the simple principles for developing a healing story, then it becomes easier to build the characters and story line. While these simple principles will be discussed further in the next chapter, here I would like to illustrate how an "imaginative" healing story can be constructed.

Grandfathers who own a car are popular when a grandson wants to get to the skate park but a definite embarrassment to have hanging around. As a result, I found myself sitting in my car parked under a shady tree a goodly distance away while my grandson and his friends demonstrated their tricks, tried out new stunts, and did heaps of their own hanging around. Absent-mindedly, I began to wonder what would happen if someone unintentionally stepped on one of the skateboards left at the top of a ramp. What could be the consequences? What chain of events might follow that could illustrate how important it was to take responsibility for things such as leaving your skateboard at the top of a ramp? Who might step on a skateboard anyway? Perhaps someone so distracted, maybe by anger, that he did not notice the skateboard. As I thought about describing an irritable, angry person with little empathy for the mistake of a child, the name Grumblebum seemed to fit. It described the character, it was a bit irreverent, and it joined with schoolyard humor, as does Ms. Greenfingers' zoo poo stew (which ends up over Mr. Grumblebum's head).

While Grumblebum represents anger and its consequences, it seemed appropriate to have a character that guided the listener in a more responsible direction. Janey became this character: a girl who made mistakes and who was capable of learning from experience, willing to offer a gesture of kindness to somebody else who had been upset, and willing to take responsibility for her own actions.

What might seem an imaginative tale to the first-time listener or reader, the story actually evolved out of a real-life experience of taking my grandson to the skate park. It happened while having the time to contemplate an idea and expand on that idea. It evolved around the thought of being able to communicate a therapeutically valid outcome to the listener with impact and humor. The tale is told in Story 66, "Taking Responsibility."

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