Powerful Therapy Metaphors

Effective analogies to illustrate growth, self-care, emotions, addiction, grief, counseling, and life concepts

By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

Puzzle pieces to show how metaphors link ideas together
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

As a counselor, you probably have a few “go-to” therapy metaphors that you use in sessions. For example, the “airplane oxygen mask” metaphor is a powerful analogy that demonstrates the significance of meeting your own needs before attempting to help others.

Another example of a therapy metaphor is the “rearview mirror” analogy. If you’re driving, and your entire concentration is on what’s behind you, you’ll crash. Good drivers, in contrast, focus ahead, but also regularly check the rearview mirror. The “rearview mirror” metaphor effectively illustrates how recovery from drugs and alcohol requires learning from, but not dwelling on, past mistakes and regrets.

Powerful Therapy Metaphors: Analogies in Counseling

The following is a list of helpful therapy metaphors and analogies for growth, self-care, emotions, addiction, grief, counseling, and life.


For additional therapy metaphors, click here.

For commonly used therapy questions and phrases, see Do You Speak Therapist?


Metaphors for Growth & Self-Care

Forming a new habit is like carving a path in the jungle. You trod through the undergrowth and take the same route over and over again, until a clear path is formed. Meanwhile, older pathways become overgrown and wild, disappearing from sight with unuse.

A habit forms the way water carves a new stream or river.

You can’t see the grass growing, but after a week or so, you can see that the lawn needs mowing.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Mind the “check engine” light in your car. It indicates that something is wrong; if you ignore it, the problem will likely become worse. The longer you ignore internal cues, the greater the damage to your “car.”

A plant requires the right amount of water, sunlight, and fertilizer to grow and thrive.

You are a battery that needs to be recharged every so often.

Metaphors for Emotions

Our emotions are like a thermometer in the window. You can see clouds or rain or sun, but without a thermometer, you won’t know if it’s 90 degrees or 17 below. Emotions impact how you experience the outside world.

Life is like a heart monitor; there are ups and downs. If it goes flat, you’re dead.

The more you bottle up your emotions, the more likely you are to explode.

Repressing anger is like stuffing trash in a garbage can. Eventually, it’s going to spill over if you don’t take out the trash.

When you resent someone, it’s like drinking poison and expecting them to die.

Anxiety is a hungry monster that gets bigger when you feed it.

Worrying is like riding a stationary bike; you can peddle as hard as you can, but you’ll never get anywhere.

Therapy Metaphors for Addiction

Addiction is a disease of the soul.

When you’re in active addiction, you’re a shadow of yourself.

Addiction is like being in a toxic relationship. It’s all-consuming, lust-worthy, and even thrilling at times… but at the cost of your health and well-being. You have to break up in order to move on with your life.

Addiction is like a tornado, ravaging everything in its path. After the storm, it’s time to rebuild. It won’t look exactly the way it did before the tornado hit… but there’s potential for things to be even better.

Addiction is like other chronic health conditions in that there’s no cure, but it’s 100% manageable with treatment and lifestyle changes.

The longer you sit and stare at a plate of cookies, the more likely you are to give in to temptation. Set yourself up for success by avoiding triggers when possible.

If you hang out in a barber shop long enough you’ll end up getting a haircut.

Temptation is like a muscle that grows weaker with use until it finally gives out.

Living life without drugs or alcohol is like any skill; you first learn how to do it and then you have to practice. You may slip up, but don’t give up; learn from your mistakes. You can’t excel at anything without practice.

Cravings are like waves; ride them out until the wave recedes.

Attempting to save someone from drowning is dangerous. In their frantic efforts for oxygen, they’ll claw over and push the person trying to help underwater. This is an unconscious survival instinct. When your loved one is in active addiction, they’ll fight anyone and anything that gets in their way of a gulp of air.

Metaphors for Grief

Grief is a deep wound that takes time to heal. The wound is raw and painful, but will eventually scab over, although leaving behind a permanent scar.

Every person you lose takes a little piece of you with them.

Metaphors for Counseling

Going to therapy is akin to filling your toolbox with tools.

In a car, your therapist is a passenger in the front seat, but you’re behind the wheel. A passenger offers assistance with reading the map and providing directions, but it’s up to you to choose the turns you’ll take, and ultimately, the destination.

A counselor doesn’t provide the answers, but offers the tools to find them.

Going to therapy is like going to the gym; you may feel sore and you won’t see immediate effects, but the long-term results are gratifying and well-worth the investment.

Therapy Metaphors for Life

Problems in life are like bad smells; you can attempt to mask them or cover them up, but you have to remove the source before they can truly go away.

You can’t choose the canvas or paint in life, but you decide the picture you’ll paint.

Your life is a book with many chapters and pages. Every day is a new page. You write your own story.

Life is like a “choose your own adventure” book. You make decisions, but you can’t always predict the outcome.

Sometimes you’re dealt a really sh**** hand. How are you going to play your cards?

The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.


Post your “go-to” therapy metaphors in a comment!

Author: Cassie Jewell

Cassie Jewell, introvert and avid reader, is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed substance abuse treatment practitioner with a Master's Degree in Community Counseling.

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