Psychotherapy is a conversation between a therapist and a client. While many types of nonverbal communication also play a role, the core medium is words. Words, as every storyteller knows, have the power to create a visual image in the mind of the listener. Although often captured in just a few words, a mental image speaks to both sides of brain. As a result, mental pictures can be long lasting, emotionally evocative, subtly persuasive, and deeply meaningful.
For these reasons, visual images described in words are a common and useful element in my approach to helping clients complete their current transition and grow into their next stage. Let me share a couple of my favorites with you.
1. Many of my clients are in a relationship with a difficult person, be it a parent, a spouse, a sibling, an in-law, or a not-so-young child. These difficult individuals are adept at provoking my clients into arguments which are invariably as pointless as they are painful. To help such clients learn to avoid being “hooked” by their difficult person’s provocations, I share the visual image of a wise older fish, under the water, looking at a fisherman’s nearby lure with skepticism. The bait looks juicy and delicious, but the smart fish knows there is a hook hidden within, so he lets the bait float on downstream. I urge my clients to become smarter fish.
2. No one’s life is without adversity, but some clients either encounter more than their fair share or lack skills for overcoming it. To convey the meaning of courage, and to contrast it with fearlessness, I share the visual image of an infantryman who is hunkered down in a foxhole during a battle. He belongs to an army which is engaged in an ugly and bloody battle because some vitally important national ideals are at stake. When the soldier’s sergeant announces that the platoon must abandon the relative safety of the foxhole because they are needed a hundred yards away, the soldier knows that he is going into greater danger. He is terrified. He might be shaking with fear. When he nevertheless climbs up and out, and accepts this risk in service of a higher purpose, he is showing great courage. Fear is an emotion; courage is an attribute of behavior.
Likewise, there is no surprise or shame in my clients feeling tremendous fear as they face their challenges. Nothing could be more normal. Their challenge is to nevertheless climb out of their foxhole and do what the situation requires of them. This is courage.
Clients often report to me much later that images we discussed in therapy were pivotal in their learning the new skills they needed for their next stage. This convinces me that images aid insight, that is, pictures can help us “see” our path forward in life. What do you think?
“My passion is ensuring that every adult is mentally ready to succeed in all transitions that comprise the adult years. The meaning in my life comes from helping my patients see themselves, their situation, their future, and the entire world with new eyes and a newly courageous attitude.