Using Life Metaphors in Gay Counselling & Psychotherapy
a way for clients and therapists to work in partnership in counselling and
psychotherapy. This article examines the use of metaphors in gay counselling to
assist clients to come to their own interpretations and start finding answers
and solutions to problems about relationships, friendship and trust.
I work a lot with metaphors and many of my clients are gay men and
lesbians. The approach I use in counselling and psychotherapy at www.forwardtherapy.com is based
on the principal that we interpret and make meaning of life through the
stories we tell ourselves and others. These stories about the events
and the experiences of our lives employ metaphors.
The journey metaphor (life as a journey) is very common in
counselling work as are pedagogic metaphors (life as learning). But
rather than come up with the metaphors myself, I am interested in the
metaphors people bring to the counselling session. As a therapist I do
not set about making interpretations but assist people to make their
For example, say I am meeting with a client who talks about not
being able to find any satisfaction in life. He has been searching for
satisfaction for a long time. He knows it exists because he knows some
other gay men who seem to have found it, but he was always told when he
was growing up that satisfaction came from having a family and finding
a loving partner. He hasnt been able to find satisfaction and has
often thought about giving up (the giving up took the form of suicidal
thoughts), but something leads him to keep pursuing it.
This story could be seen as a kind of a quest metaphor: the quest
for satisfaction. In telling me the story of this search he uses words
like finding, searching, existence, giving up and pursuing.
So I can pick up this metaphor and start using it with him, using
his own language and interpretation of the events and experiences of
his life to find new clues, signposts etc to explore the origins of
this quest with him. Quest metaphors are not uncommon of course and we
see them regularly in films such as The Wizard of Oz, and Lord of the
Someone else might come to me with a problem of not knowing how to
make friends. So there is a metaphor here in the making. This person
has almost given up because it requires too much effort and he has
nothing to see for it. When I ask about what he has heard about
making friends he tells me that he understands it takes Time, Trust
and Effort. And from his experience already he has decided that it is
quite hard to build on one night stands or random hook ups because
the whole thing is liable to come crumbling down too easily.
This sounds to me like a construction metaphor. I can follow this up
with him by asking about plans and dreams of what kinds of friendships
he wants to build. Are they great edifices or cosy hideaways? If random
hook ups dont seem to work, what sort of foundations might work? What
is the cement of friendship? What are the building blocks? Does he know
of any finished products or works in progress he can get ideas from?
I find metaphors really stimulating. Firstly, I dont come up with
them, others do, but I can help develop the preferred story and
plotlines. Metaphors also speak to the hopes, beliefs, commitments and
values people have. And hearing about these is just as important as
hearing the problem story.