7 Short Therapeutic Metaphors for the Child within ...


7 Short Therapeutic Metaphors for the Child within ...
7 Short Therapeutic Metaphors for the Child within ...

Metaphors are among the most used techniques in all schools of psychotherapy because they offer such a great deal of spectacular results in so little time, and that’s why I thought it would be nice of me to share a few of these short therapeutic metaphors with you. I could say that Milton Erickson was a legend in this field, a true king of short therapeutic metaphors by being world renowned for his ability to assist people in making some incredible personal change. A big part of his amazing technique consisted in the way he was telling a lot of these apparently simple stories, parables or jokes and he made it look so easy that he often fooled the experts. The secret of his work laid in the fact that through these stories, he managed to bypass conscious resistance and this way, change was able to occur because people saw themselves in the stories they heard and became part of the incredible events presented there. I hope you’ll enjoy these little stories and that you will find them useful in dealing with everyday situations.

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The Fence

One my all-time favorite short therapeutic metaphors often used in therapy is called The Fence and I’m pretty sure that a lot of you already are familiar with it, but still, I simply cannot leave out this beautiful story:

There was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.


The story of The Fence illustrates a profound truth about our actions and their irreversibility. Just like the boy learned self-control, we too can understand that words, once spoken, cannot be taken back. They imprint on people's hearts and minds, forming scars that may fade but never disappear. It teaches us to think before we speak, to harness our emotions, and to communicate with kindness and deliberation. By internalizing this metaphor, we can strive to leave no holes in the fences of others' lives, choosing instead to be builders of bridges towards understanding and compassion.


The Story of Two Cats

This is another one of my favorite therapeutic metaphors and it’s written by Julliet Eccleston. So, here goes:

A big cat saw a little cat chasing its tail and asked, "Why are you chasing your tail?"

Said the kitten, "I have learned that the best thing for a cat is happiness and that happiness is in my tail. Therefore I am chasing it and when I catch it, I shall have happiness."

Said the old cat, "My child, I too have paid attention to the problems of the universe. I too have judged that happiness is in my tail. But I have noticed that whenever I chase it, it runs away from me and when I go about my business, it just seems to follow me wherever I go."


The Story of Two Cats is a therapeutic metaphor written by Julliet Eccleston and is often used to teach children about happiness. The story follows two cats, an old cat and a young kitten. The kitten is chasing its tail, believing that happiness is in its tail and that if it catches it, it will have happiness. The old cat has noticed that when it chases its tail, it runs away, but when it goes about its business, happiness follows it.

This metaphor is used to teach children that happiness is not something that can be chased or captured, but something that is already within them. It also encourages children to take a more proactive approach to happiness, by engaging in activities and experiences that bring them joy.

The metaphor is part of a larger collection of therapeutic metaphors written by Eccleston and published on a women-focused blog in the health category. These metaphors are designed to help children understand the complexities of their emotions and to provide them with a safe and supportive environment to explore and express their feelings.


Keep on Going

Here is another wonderful inspirational little story that I absolutely adore, but sadly its author is yet unknown:

There were 2 little mice who lived in the walls of a homely kitchen. One day as they were both scurrying along above the worktops, they both slipped and fell into a large jug of milk. The first mouse paddled for a little while but gave up very quickly, the second mouse, determined to succeed (despite not knowing how) continued to paddle and paddle... as he paddled more and more the milk started to curdle and slowly but surely the milk got thicker and thicker and was able to drag himself to safety on the rim of the jug.


The tale of these mice serves as a powerful allegory about perseverance and the rewards of determination. When faced with an unexpected challenge, sometimes it's the continuous, seemingly fruitless efforts that can lead to transformation and triumph. Just as the second mouse’s persistent paddling turned milk into butter, our consistent actions can create opportunities out of obstacles, teaching us that when things get tough, it's important not to give up. This story resonates particularly for those moments when we feel as though we're struggling without progress; it reminds us that our efforts are not in vain, and with enough persistence, we can rise above our challenges.


The Magnet

I simply love this little inspirational story written by Vana Papagianni:

The cleaner and shinier and stronger the magnet is the more power it has to attract the good quality steel pins. The rusted ones are left behind. Make sure you invest on and look after this magnet to the best of your abilities, keep it clean and strong. This magnet is you. Once you do that everything else becomes effortless, the good social circle, love and money will be looking for you.


Just like the magnet, when you tend to your own wellbeing, you cultivate a powerful internal force that naturally draws positive outcomes towards you. Nourishing yourself, both mentally and physically, ensures that you shine brightly, influencing your aura and the energy you emit. It's about making yourself a priority, because in doing so, you strengthen the magnet that is your essence, your core. Attracting positivity is not merely luck; it's the result of dedication to self-care and self-love, which quietly but assertively calls out to kindred spirits and opportunities, inviting them into your life's narrative.


Learn from Mistakes

Another marvelous little story, whose author is unknown:

Thomas Edison tried two thousand different materials in search of a filament for the light bulb. When none worked satisfactorily, his assistant complained, "All our work is in vain. We have learned nothing."

Edison replied very confidently, "Oh, we have come a long way and we have learned a lot. We know that there are two thousand elements which we cannot use to make a good light bulb."


This narrative serves as a gentle reminder that not every attempt will lead to immediate success, but every endeavor is a stepping stone to greater knowledge. Embracing the trials and errors as part of the process is essential. Just like Edison’s perseverance in the face of failure, discovering what does not work is a form of progress. It nudges us closer to our aspirations, teaching persistence, resilience, and patience. Our failures are merely the whispers of more promising paths, urging us to keep moving forward.


The Story of a Woodcutter

This next short therapeutic metaphor is written by Stephen Covey and it’s from "7 Habits of Highly Effective People."

Once upon a time, a very strong woodcutter asked for a job in a timber merchant and he got it. The pay was really good and so was the work condition. For those reasons, the woodcutter was determined to do his best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he supposed to work. The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees.

"Congratulations," the boss said. "Go on that way!"
Very motivated by the boss' words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could only bring 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder, but he could only bring 10 trees. Day after day he was bringing less and less trees.

"I must be losing my strength," the woodcutter thought. He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on.

"When was the last time you sharpened your axe?" the boss asked.

"Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been very busy trying to cut trees…"


The Elephant Rope

I love so much this deep little therapeutic metaphor and sadly, its author is also unknown:

As a man was passing the elephants, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at any time, break away from their bonds but for some reason, they did not. He saw a trainer nearby and asked why these animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away. "Well," trainer said, "when they are very young and much smaller we use the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free."

The man was amazed. These animals could at any time break free from their bonds but because they believed they couldn’t, they were stuck right where they were.

So, there you go, my 7 all-time favorite short therapeutic metaphors. Do you know other inspirational and motivational little stories? I’m always looking for more, so please share with us some of the short healing stories that you know. I would be really grateful!

julieteccleston.com and academictips.org

Feedback Junction

Where Thoughts and Opinions Converge

I love these!! Great article :))

These are great!

I love these so much thank you

Aisyah - if you don't the time to sharpen the saw, the blade dulls and become less effective. If you don't take care of yourself (diet, exercise, sleep, emotional, etc) you become less effective and 'dull'. I hope this helps.


Awesome..... Speak right to my therapist soul!

Wow these are great:-)


i don't really get story number 6. Anybody mind explaining?

I absolutely adored every single one of these stories, thank you!

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