37 Powerful Therapy Metaphors

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

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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!

78 Professional Membership Organizations for Mental Health Workers

A list of membership associations for mental health counselors, psychotherapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, specialists, etc., including ACA/APA divisions and international organizations

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This is a list of 78+ professional membership organizations for mental health clinicians and specialists. It includes the divisions of the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the American Psychological Association (APA).

For additional resources for mental health professionals on this site, see Must-Read Books for Therapists and Resources for Mental Health Professionals.


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Professional Membership Organizations for Mental Health Professionals

National (United States)

  1. American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
  2. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
  3. American Academy of Clinical Psychology
  4. American Academy of Forensic Psychology
  5. American Academy of Psychodynamic Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis
  6. American Art Therapy Association
  7. American Association for Community Psychiatry
  8. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
  9. American Association of Christian Counselors
  10. American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists
  11. American Association of Suicidology
  12. American Board of Forensic Psychology
  13. American Board of Professional Psychology
  14. American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
  15. American Clinical Social Work Association
  16. American Counseling Association
  17. American Dance Therapy Association
  18. American Group Psychotherapy Association
  19. American Institute of Stress (AIS)
  20. American Mental Health Counselors Association
  21. American Music Therapy Association
  22. American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
  23. American Psychiatric Association
  24. American Psychoanalytical Association
  25. American Psychological Association
  26. American School Counselor Association
  27. American Society of Addiction Medicine
  28. American Society of Clinical Hypnosis
  29. American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology
  30. American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama
  31. American Sociological Association
  32. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
  33. Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology
  34. Association for Contextual Behavioral Science
  35. Association for Death Education and Counseling
  36. Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
  37. Association for Play Therapy
  38. Association for Psychological Science
  39. Association for Transpersonal Psychology
  40. Association for Women in Psychology
  41. Association of Black Psychologists
  42. Association of Humanistic Psychology
  43. B.F. Skinner Foundation
  44. Christian Association for Psychological Studies
  45. Cognitive Neuroscience Society
  46. Cognitive Science Society
  47. Comparative Cognition Society
  48. Experimental Psychology Society
  49. Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences
  50. Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry
  51. National Association for Addiction Professionals
  52. National Association for Children’s Behavioral Health
  53. National Association for Poetry Therapy
  54. National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis
  55. National Association for Rural Mental Health
  56. National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers
  57. National Association of Christian Counselors
  58. National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists
  59. National Association of Forensic Social Work
  60. National Association of Social Workers
  61. National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors
  62. National Board for Certified Counselors
  63. National Council on Family Relations
  64. National Education Association
  65. National Hypnotherapy Society
  66. National Latinx Psychological Association
  67. North American Drama Therapy Association
  68. North American Society of Adlerian Psychology
  69. North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity
  70. Professional Association of Christian Counselors and Psychotherapists
  71. Psychometric Society
  72. Society for Neuroscience
  73. Society for Personality Assessment
  74. Society for Police and Criminal Psychology
  75. Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science
  76. Society of Experimental Psychologists
  77. Society of Experimental Social Psychology
  78. Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology
American Counseling Association (ACA) Divisions
American Psychological Association (APA) Divisions

Canada

UK & Ireland

Australia & New Zealand

European Organizations

International Organizations & Associations