Research suggests that metaphors are integral to psychotherapeutic practice. We wanted to explore how 10 therapists reflect upon the use of metaphors in therapy, and how they react to some metaphors expressed by patients treated for of major depressive disorder (MDD).
Five therapists practicing psychodynamic therapy (PDT) and five practicing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) were interviewed with a semi-structured qualitative interview. Transcripts were analyzed using a thematic analysis approach.
Our analysis resulted in two main themes: the therapeutic use of metaphors, and conflicting feelings towards metaphors used by depressed patients. Most therapists said that they do not actively listen for metaphors in therapy and many said that they seldom use metaphors deliberately. While PDT-therapists appeared more attentive to patient-generated metaphors, CBT-therapists seemed more focused on therapist-generated metaphors. Most therapists did not try to alter the patient-generated metaphors they evaluated as unhelpful or harmful. Some therapists expressed strong negative feelings towards some of the metaphors used by patients. PDT-therapists were the most critical towards the metaphor of tools and the metaphor of depression as an opponent. CBT-therapists were the most critical towards the metaphor of surface-and-depth.
These results remind us of the complexity of using metaphors in therapy, and can hopefully be an inspiration for therapists to reflect upon their own use of metaphors. Open therapeutic dialogue on the metaphor of tools, surface-depth and depression as an opponent may be necessary to avoid patient-therapist-conflicts.
Clinical Trial gov. Identifier: NCT03022071. Date of registration: 16/01/2017.