Use of symbols and metaphors

One of our main questions when we conducted the pilots and developed the training manual was regarding the use of the metaphor the Butterfly woman.

Was it cultural applicable?

Would survivors relate to the story?

Was there any connotation that would bring the real story out of focus?

Could we use the same story but with a different name?

Why do we use metaphors?

Therapeutic metaphors are stories or images that convey something that can amaze, inspire or open the mind. Metaphors can be simple and effective tools for teaching and learning. They are more than a way to talk about an experience. They can describe our experience; and they can be lenses through which we can understand and make sense of the world. They can help us to shift between insights and experience. A metaphor is a charged meaning, a mental map that can show us how things are or how they can be understood, and help us to see what we have not yet seen.

In therapy, it can be helpful at several levels to handle a problem metaphorically. Because a metaphor is distant from the experience that preoccupies the survivor, she can relax her conscious mind. By using a metaphor in therapy we externalise something; we draw an outline of what we are discussing and look at it together from a distance. We can examine it, grapple with it, and make the ideas it contains more visible and understandable, with less danger and at a distance.



Are there other metaphors that could be used in the same way?

In the training, we use a single metaphorical narrative to describe the experience and consequences of GBV. We explain the course that trauma takes in generic terms through the story of the Butterfly Woman; it remains a story but at the same time it is clinically accurate.

It must be remembered, of course, that metaphors lend themselves to multiple interpretations. Make sure you and the people with whom you are working have the same understanding. There are no right or wrong interpretations, but be aware that metaphors are rich and ambiguous. Make sure they play a helpful and therapeutic role in the context you are in.