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February 20, 2018

Balancing Eight Nails On The Head Of One Nail: A Counseling Metaphor

By Dr. Richard Boyum

Sometimes in counseling, people believe that change in a given area is not possible. By using metaphor and a "seeing is believing" exercise, I often find that I can motivate someone to begin to make the steps towards a meaningful change. This exercise involves the use of nine nails or spikes and a piece of wood. Have one of the nails or spikes driven into a small board to essentially create a perch or tower. Use a broad headed nail.

Then, do the following steps:

Step 1. Have the client take eight nails and try to balance them on the head of one nail. If they think in traditional fashion, they can get no more than one or two nails of the same size onto the head of the nail that has been pounded into the board. They will become frustrated. Length is frustration to the problem that they are working on.

Step 2. Indicate that sometimes we're so used to doing things in certain ways, that we do not see an alternative. Take the eight nails and lay one on a flat surface. Then take the next six nails and cross hatch them in such a fashion that one points toward the client and one points towards you, the counselor. Then take the eighth nail and lay it over the top of the cross hatched nails in the opposite direction of the bottom nail. You then essentially have a sandwich.

Step 3. Now pick up these nails by gripping the top and bottom nails on the left and right side. Indicate to the client that the way to get better at any changed technique is to practice, to focus on the change at hand and to believe that it can work. Then, find the theoretical center point of your nail sandwich and set the eight nails with the bottom nail on the center of the head of the nail that makes the tower. The bottom and top nails will pivot and interlock the six other nails and they will stay on the head of one nail. Indicate to the client that if the nails were to fall, you would simply pick them up-and do it again (in actuality, by this method you can balance 16 nails on the head of one nail, but it is a real hand full).

Step 4. Now ask the client to do what you have just done. When they have experienced success, relate this to the problem that they are working on. Indicate that sometimes a radical change in the way we think about things is required to achieve our goals. But if we have the recipe the change may not be that hard. Have them begin to think about things that they might need to do to achieve the goal that they would like in a behavioral change. I have found this technique to be extremely helpful in helping individuals get past a stuck point when other types of counseling intervention techniques have failed. Try it and see if it works for you.