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December 18, 2017

Follow The Yellow Brick Road: The Use of Metaphor In Counseling

By Dr. Richard Boyum

Metaphor is a powerful way to communicate change with a client. The use of an indirect method of telling stories allows clients to lower their defenses as well as gain a perspective that they might not attain by dealing with process issues in direct counseling. Throughout history there have been many stories and fairy tales that have informed and transformed us. The Ancient Greeks and Chinese used such stories. Traditional fairy tales, developed in European culture, have been a large part of our children's literature. In all probability, the most powerful American Contemporary fairy tale over the past fifty years has been THE WIZARD OF OZ. The use of this particular story, which has been-heard or viewed by most of our clients on numerous occasions, can be a powerful catalyst to change. It is most effective with students/clients who have developed formal; operational thoughts. Hence, high school and college students respond to the power of this story. The principles of the story can easily be applied to the content of particular process areas of our clients' lives.

The story itself is about Dorothy trying to become what she is meant to be. This is symbolized in her attempt to get "home." She is one place and would like to be somewhere else. Dorothy learns that she can not achieve her task alone. She requires the help of others. Sometimes the help comes from unsuspected places. The Munchkins, or "Little People" set her off down the right path. Along the way she meets three major characters. Each of these, in reality, are ego states that are within herself. Dorothy learns that to achieve your goal, you need to use your head (a brain), you need to have passion and feeling for what you want (a heart), and you need to have the tenacity to take risks and stretch yourself (courage). Through the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, Dorothy learns that she has each of these parts within her. Remember the part of the film where each of the characters thinks they are not going to get what they want and they are given recognition for having it all the time? They also communicate through the Ruby Red Slippers that even when we have what we need, we must look inside ourselves to find it.

Dorothy experiences the mythical hero's journey as she travels out into the world of experience, She finds the people that we hold on the highest esteem, such as the Wizard, are often just as ordinary as we are. She also finds the people who try to fight us or hurt us in many ways are more vulnerable than we are (the Wicked Witch of the West). Through her experiences, Dorothy develops a powerful model for discovering who she is. Her belief system about what she is capable of doing allows her to achieve her goals. By using this story, and making transitions to the content and process of our clients' lives, we can better able our clients to become themselves. They too must experience the hero's journey. They must travel out into the world. They must travel into their own self-reflection. Further, they must find these components of self that allow them to achieve their goals and must learn how and when to draw upon the resources and strength of others. By using stories such as WIZARD OF OZ, we can leave lasting and powerful impressions on those who we serve.