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Finding the words

When communicating what's going on within ourselves, it can be hard to find the words. This is perfectly understandable because our internal experiences are so intangible. It is very common for clients in therapy to find themselves feeling quite muted, often saying that they can't find their words or that they don't know where to start. How can we find the verbal bridges to help connect the internal and the external worlds?

image: iStock / Getty

Something that works well in my practice is to visualise what's going on inside and to make good use of metaphors and symbolism within the session. What does it look like? What does it feel like? We are used to communicating symbolically in everyday life - the glass might be half-full, we might at times feel in pieces, the grass might feel greener on the other side and we might even feel as though we are drowning in the workplace. Pushing down feelings could be visualised as pushing an inflatable down into a pool in that it can take a lot of energy and strives to pop up to the surface again. New possibilities can arise from allowing creative visualisation into the session.

When feeling a struggle to communicate what's going on inside, it might be worth considering the following questions:

Can I liken how I am feeling to something that is already known of and understood? (e.g. it feels as though I am on an island and everyone else is on the mainland or it feels as though I losing a battle)

If I could draw or picture how I feel, what would it look like?

You can also use visualisation to communicate how you have experienced shifts in your life (e.g. It felt as though my life and all of its contents were slipping away like sand through a sift or it was such an abrupt change that it truly felt as though I tumbled off a cliff)

If we can succeed in being as understood as possible by the other, the therapeutic journey hopefully becomes a more fulfilling one. As a therapist, I am comfortable working with visualisation, symbolism and metaphors in the sessions if my client finds this useful. I can stay with these images, help to build upon them and use them in some of my communications in response.

Hannah Downing, Psychodynamic Therapist,


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