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Over the years, I have found myself using metaphors to describe the different ways psychotherapy can function in a person’s life. Here are a few.

Being in Therapy might be Like:

A Ship:

A Broken Bone:

A Garden:

A Spaceship:

An Anchor:

If your boat has a leak, even a small one, it will sink because it is meant to be on the water, not full of water. Sometimes, people come to therapy feeling too full of things like anxiety, depression, inability to be close to people, addictions, etc etc etc….. and they need help finding the part of the boat that is taking in water. So we work together, like working on a ship, so that you can sail. 

When you break your leg or arm, the first thing the doctor will do is reset the limb – there is no point in putting a cast over something that is  turned this way or that in a direction that came from the break – after the bone has been reset, the doc will put a cast on the reset bone to hold the new position (the way it was before it broke) in place long enough to heal. Sometimes therapy is a holding place that secures you while you heal. People often come to therapy somewhere along this process – perhaps right after a break, but perhaps for some time to heal in the company of someone who can see and hold the different feelings and realities of their lives. The very relationship itself is healing.

You don’t plant a garden and then say, “That’s fantastic and beautiful. I did that and it’s DONE!” You tend your garden…enjoying it often, but also working to pull weeds and figure out how much water and sun different plants and flowers need. We are often like this: beautiful and colorful but always in need of tending. Sometimes it’s not so clear what we need, what we lack, which are weeds and which are plants we want to grow. Psychotherapy can be like hiring a gardener to help you tend to your life. Lastly, I like to say to clients: you wouldn’t look at a plant and say "Grow the hell  up already!” You tend to it, find out what it needs, give it time….and it will grow.” 

I once wrote a poem about parts. A spaceship often must lose parts of itself to go up higher. Sometimes what someone needed in order to get where they are will now only keep them from going further. The paradox of letting go is that it often allows for the journey to continue with far more efficiency. 

While in your boat, if you need to get some rest or just get some things done, an anchor allows you to be aboard but not drift out to sea. A child who feels securely held and seen (loved) will grow and venture out into the world becoming part of a larger community and playing his or her unique part in the world. When home and being parented do not go so well or just have some of the usual bumps of family life (of course this is a vast continuum and can involve many kinds of experiences or lack of experiences!), development and growth often become difficult: people get stuck. Psychotherapy – drawing from attachment theory – becomes a place and space to explore and expand; a place to find some security so that you can move from here to there.

Written by Deb Montgomery. Use only with permission.

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