The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners.

by Anna Kato

Metaphors can support our professional identities in a highly personal way. Like me, you might remember learning about the definition of metaphor when you took a required English class sometime in the past. In high school I learned that a metaphor is a figure of speech used to compare unlike things without using the words, “like” or “as.” Michael Michalko, an authority on creative thinking writes, “A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that means one thing is used to describe an object or idea to which it is not literally applicable – a ship to plow the sea, for example, or a lover’s lane described as a ribbon of moonlight.”  Not until I became a hypnotherapist did I consider that metaphors not only arise from one’s subconscious mind, but, also, can play an active role in assisting us to understand our professional lives more fully.

Metaphors can assist us to gain new perspectives. Metaphors may elicit feelings that surprise us, or provide a means to increase flexibility in our thinking or behavior. When I was teaching undergraduates last year in a university course for students interested in becoming counselors, social workers, or teachers, I included time in one of the class sessions for students to write a personal metaphor that captured their strengths, or, might point out to them attributes that could assist them to be confident and competent people. As I was preparing for class, I thought about the ways in which metaphors can offer clients extraordinary insights during hypnotherapy sessions and realized that the students in my class might benefit in a similar way. After each student created a metaphor, a student said to the class, “Nobody ever asked me what my strengths are!”

On occasion, as a new hypnotherapist I experienced moments of feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility implicit in the work. I found it hard to focus on my strengths. When I reflected how much students benefitted from the use of metaphor and began to read more about the use of metaphor in hypnotherapy, I realized that I could craft metaphors for myself that would support me to be confident in my work and to assess ways in which I might hone my skills. Often, metaphors used during hypnosis are imbedded in stories or are stories themselves. However, I discovered that it is possible to write a single metaphor that allows the identification of something useful, or helpful, or inspiring that supports aspects of my hypnotherapist “self.” For example, I gain confidence in my work when I use this metaphor: “I am a hollyhock plant.” Initially, the thought of myself as a plant might seem silly. Yet, a hollyhock has sturdy roots, orients its blooms to sunlight, contains seeds on its stalk while buds form and flowers open, and as a biennial, takes time to nourish itself by seeming to disappear for a year before it re-emerges.

How is all of this like me, a hypnotherapist? How does this metaphor help me to feel confident? Like the hollyhock, I have sturdy roots in the soil of the courses I took for initial certification. I have a sturdy foundation. Like, the hollyhock, I orient to sunlight, an image that means to me, the processes of learning new things in order to re-seed my “light,” my knowledge. Like the hollyhock I have wonderful potential to grow, to develop in the effective use of my skills. Like the hollyhock, a biennial, I take the time to lean into a period of rest, or reflection on my work. The biennial nature of the hollyhock suggests to me that like the hollyhock, I need to retreat a bit (although not to disappear from sight) order to take the time to revise the materials for my class on self-hypnosis.  Finally, like the hollyhock knows how to “be,” I recognize that I know how to do my work. In addition, thinking of my hypnotherapist self as a hollyhock brings me happiness. I love the simple beauty of the vibrant plant. Therefore, by extending the idea about loving the plant I know that can love my hypnotherapist self as I continually immerse myself the never-ending process of honing my skills.

Thinking metaphorically is fun. I have developed a simple process to make the writing a metaphor related to “hypnotherapist” an easy one in a short period of time. No matter how many years of experience in hypnotherapy you have, beginner or expert in the work, you can summon your creativity. Once your creativity is sparked, you can begin the short process of writing your metaphor, and discover a way to assess the metaphor for its messages of confidence (or any other message you’d like to derive from it).  By studying the metaphor you will see what messages it might hold for you that represent something you would like to learn, or a skill you would like to fortify.

Anna Kato, Ed.D., CHT, sound healer and shamanic practitioner, has a practice in Sacramento, California.  A retired Lecturer and Supervisor of Teacher Education at UC Davis, Anna now often teaches in the Counselor Preparation Program at CSU Sacramento.

  1. Michalko. (2012,  February 1). Thinking metaphorically: How to look at things a different way [Web article]. Retrieved from


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