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Verbal and Nonverbal Metaphor With

Children in Counseling
Gayle L. Chesley, Dodie A. Gillett, and William G. Wagner
The metaphor is typically viewed as a verbal form of expression in traditional talk therapies. However, this definition
excludes nonverbal metaphors that children use when they express themselves through play. In this article, the authors
examine the use of therapeutic metaphors, both verbal and nonverbal, with children. The roles of the child, counselor,
and family in treatment are discussed, along with the benefits and limitations of using therapeutic metaphors with children. The use of quantitative, qualitative, and integrated methods for studying childrens use of verbal and nonverbal
metaphors in counseling is also examined.

Conceptions of metaphor have been numerous and varied


over the centuries, ranging from the general to the specific.
The origin of the word can be found in the Latin metaphora
and the Greek metapherin, which mean to transfer (Peeks,
1989). Although metaphors have almost limitless possibilities,
some modern authors have chosen to interpret the term in a
more restrictive manner. For example, Kopp (1971) defined
a metaphor as a way of speaking in which one thing is expressed in terms of another, whereby this bringing together
throws new light on the character of what is being described
(p. 269). Kopps use of the word speaking, however, appears
to limit the definition of metaphor to verbal expression. Using
Kopps definition, the use of therapeutic metaphor would be
reserved for individuals who have developed the linguistic
abilities required for this mode of communication. Children
who do not have these skills would be viewed as incapable of
using metaphor to express themselves.
A variety of studies have been undertaken to examine
whether children have the capacity to comprehend verbal
metaphors. Some investigators (e.g., Vosniadou & Ortony,
1983) have found that preschool and early elementary school
children do, indeed, have the ability to comprehend at least
some verbal metaphors. Others (e.g., Winner, Rosensteil,
& Gardner, 1976) have reported that childrens ability to
interpret metaphors improves with age. When Waggoner and
Palermo (1989) studied the relationship between metaphors
and simple emotions in 5-, 7-, and 9-year-old children, they
found that children were able to understand metaphors, such
as a bouncing bubble to indicate happiness and a hiding
leaf to suggest fear, but had more difficulty comprehending
abstract (e.g., special moment to represent love) as opposed
to concrete (e.g., bucking horse for anger) metaphors. In
a follow-up study, Waggoner, Palermo, and Kirsh (1997)
found that children were able to provide a rationale for their
choice, even when the metaphor appeared to be incorrect. For
example, one first grader chose fear as her interpretation for
the bouncing bubble metaphor. As Waggoner et al. stated, the

child explained the choice saying that a bubble that bounces


around is probably afraid that it will hit something and pop (p.
226). This childs explanation highlights the personal meaning of metaphors. That is, two children might use the same
term (e.g., bouncing bubble) to express different thoughts and
feelings. Counselors must remember this when they attempt
to interpret the meaning of clients metaphors.
Although children who have reached a certain developmental level may be able to understand metaphors, those with
limited language skills are unlikely to express themselves
using verbal metaphors. Young children, however, routinely
use nonverbal forms of communication to express themselves.
One example is childrens play, which can serve functions that
are similar to adults use of verbal metaphor in which one
event is linked to another in a nonliteral way (Evans, 1988).
In this article, we propose that the traditional definition of
metaphor as a form of verbal communication be expanded
to include nonverbal forms of expression. This is especially
relevant for children, who express internal thoughts and emotions through play with or without the accompanying verbal
discourse (Bowman, 1995).
As Landreth (1993) observed, childrens communication
is facilitated by the use of toys as their words and play as
their language (p. 41). Drucker (1994) described her view of
the relationship between symbols and metaphors as follows:
Symbolization and metaphorizing are taken as alternative
terms for a particular phenomenon: A metaphor here is understood to be the embodiment of a notion in form, a casting
of experience from one domain into another. This is a much
broader use of the term than one would find in a linguistic
discussion of metaphor as a figure of speech. (p. 66)

Druckers (1994) definition of metaphor includes not only


associations used in language but also any thought or experience that is taken from one area and represented in another.
Accordingly, childrens symbolic play qualifies as a metaphor

Gayle L. Chesley, Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia; Dodie A. Gillett, Creative Arts Therapy, Hofstra University; William G.
Wagner, Department of Psychology, University of Southern Mississippi. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed
to William G. Wagner, Department of Psychology, University of Southern Mississippi, 118 College Drive, Box #5025, Hattiesburg, MS
39406 (e-mail: William.wagner@usm.edu).
2008 by the American Counseling Association. All rights reserved.

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for their mental representations of self in the context of the
cultural surround. Dubowski (1990) provided an interesting example of a child who drew a picture of his oftentimes
absent and other times inconsistent father. Upon viewing his
creation, the boy changed the drawing into a balloon and said,
Daddy is a balloon (p. 18). Dubowski suggested that this
may have been the childs metaphorical representation of the
father, whose visits are infrequent, have little substance, and
are prone to burst or fly away (p. 18).
Other authors have proposed broad definitions of metaphor
in reference to children. Frey (1993) contended that in addition
to verbal discourse, art, music, and games are modalities by
which children can express themselves metaphorically. These
avenues of self-expression provide children with the opportunity to represent their internal world in an active and more
concrete manner. Peeks (1989) made a distinction between
literary metaphors, which clarify ideas, and behavioral metaphors, which offer insight into ones social context. According
to Peekss model, play serves as a behavioral metaphor that
children use to communicate thoughts and feelings about their
internal and external worlds.
Sims and Whynot (1997) extended the definition of metaphor to refer to family processes. They described metaphor as
a form of family communication in which the resemblance (or
identity) of one thing with another is asserted (p. 342). The
similarity can be either explicit or implicit. This broad definition
includes language, but also encompasses physical movement
(e.g., dance), drawing, and sculpture. In this way, both verbal
and nonverbal processes are incorporated into family treatment
and can be the subject of therapeutic intervention.
Freeman, Epston, and Lobovits (1997) described a case
involving the use of therapeutic metaphor with families. The
clinician used the metaphor of a coin to illustrate two contrasting metaphors in the family: the parents desire to weed out
(p. 239) their bad sons behavior in the context of a closeknit-family (p. 240). As the counselor stated,
You try and weed out the person from the behavior and you
value him as a person and knit him into family love and appreciation. Is this the way that this family is struggling with
how to put together the weeding stylewhere you pull hard
or cut firmlywith the knitting style, where you pay attention and you walk with care and gentleness? (Freeman et al.,
1997, p. 244)

Just as verbal metaphor can be a beneficial tool in counseling with adults (Lyddon, Clay, & Sparks, 2001), the metaphorical use of play, including artistic and other creative activities,
has been used to facilitate therapeutic change in children and
families. As Slade (1994) stated, Adults figure out how they
feel by talking it through; very young children figure it out
by playing about it (p. 91). Through the metaphor of play,
young clients are able to explore the meaning of their world
and express this view using hands-on interventions with that

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world. According to Neimeyer (1993), People constitute and


are constituted by the stories that they live and the stories that
they tell (p. 226). When applied to young people, this quote
might be restated as Children constitute and are constituted
by the stories that they live and the stories that they play.

Development of Metaphorical Ability


Piaget (1962) believed that as children develop, they become
increasingly able to separate the symbol from what it represents. Toddlers begin to exhibit pretend play by imitating their
own actions, such as sleeping and eating. In these instances,
the symbol and symbolization are closely related. Feeding a
doll requires a greater degree of cognitive development as the
symbol and symbolization are further separated. That is, play
behavior represents the childs self-directed action toward a
separate object. The separation between symbol and symbolization is greater when the child uses one object to stand for
another or assumes the role of another person (Bretherton,
1984). For example, children can become their parent and
act in ways that are consistent with this role. The child who
uses a spoon to represent a sword is illustrating the use of an
object to stand for something else. Irwin (1983) described the
relationship as an as if stance, in which children relate one
thing to another and behave as if it were the symbolic object.
This relationship need not be consciously recognized by the
child for the play to be symbolic.
Childrens symbolic play serves a variety of functions
(Irwin, 1983; Landreth, 1993). First, it helps them gain an
understanding of their experiences. Through play, children
process unfamiliar situations using a familiar medium to reenact and explore relevant life events. By doing so, they are able
to develop a sense of insight about the world. Second, through
symbolic play, children are able to express and deal with their
emotions in a nonthreatening way. Indirect expression through
play is considered to be less anxiety provoking than the direct
verbal discussion of emotionally distressing events. Thus, even
older children who have the ability to use verbal metaphor
may rely upon play to process uncomfortable and significant
life experiences. Third, children can gain a sense of perceived
control through symbolic play. In unstructured symbolic play,
the child is able to direct the play process and outcome. This
type of play provides an opportunity for problem solving
and mastery experiences, which are important for healthy
emotional development and positive self-esteem. Because of
these positive functions, play frequently has been incorporated
into therapeutic interventions with children.

Metaphor as a Therapeutic Tool


With Children
Through play, children in counseling express their view of
themselves, their view of others, their anxieties and conflicts,
and their way of conceptualizing and solving problems in the

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world (Irwin, 1983). But it is important to remember that children are not the only producers of metaphor. Counselors also use
metaphors for the purpose of facilitating therapeutic change. We
now examine the characteristics of different types of metaphor.
Later in the article, we discuss how children, clinicians, and
families use this form of expression in counseling.
Types of Metaphor
Historically, the term play therapy has been used to describe
a range of techniques that are intended to facilitate healthy
development in children (Wagner, 2003). These include methods based on psychodynamic (Klein, 1932), client-centered
(Axline, 1947; Landreth, 2002), and cognitivebehavioral
(Knell, 1998) principles. Clinicians who use these approaches
with young clients often combine verbal and nonverbal
metaphors in counseling. In this section, we examine specific
treatment techniques that counselors use with children. First,
we explore the use of toys and therapeutic play materials that
most children find enjoyable. We then turn to the therapeutic
uses of art and childrens literature.
Metaphor through play materials. Child counselors
routinely use toys to encourage clients to enact and reenact
significant life events. Similar to narrative therapy with adults,
wherein clients tell their stories and work with counselors to
generate more viable stories through verbal narrative reconstruction (Smith, 1997), children tell and retell their stories
through play. In what might be called play reconstruction,
children symbolically reenact traumatic or puzzling experiences by repeating a significant pattern in play. Young clients
enact and reenact these patterns or themes within a single
session or across multiple sessions, using the same or different
toys and play materials.
Through play reconstruction, the child is able to return to
the significant experience or concern and, with the counselor,
process the issue, devise various methods of addressing it,
and explore different solutions. This allows young clients to
work toward a resolution, which they can apply in their everyday lives (Landreth, 1993). For example, Drucker (1994)
described the case of Margaret, a 12-year-old girl who was
facing her parents difficult separation at the same time the
Challenger space shuttle explosion occurred. In session, Margaret constructed a model of the shuttle using Lego blocks.
She described a fantasy in which people on board were not
actually killed but rather had entered an alternate dimension
and were alive and busy exploring and adapting to life in their
new universe (p. 68). Margaret expressed this theme in later
sessions and was able to readjust to the altered reality in her
family (p. 68); in the process, she discovered new ways of
functioning more effectively in her environment.
Shapiro, Friedberg, and Bardenstein (2006) described how
children such as Margaret, who have experienced traumatic
events, might engage in repeated enactments of these events
in their play. Counselors have addressed the needs of these
children through the development of special interventions,

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including intensive play therapy (Kot & Tyndall-Lind, 2005)


and posttraumatic play therapy (Shelby & Felix, 2005). Kot
and Tyndall-Lind described the play therapy provided to Tony,
an anxious 7-year-old boy who was living in a domestic abuse
shelter following repeated exposure to familial violence. In
his play, Tony created a super durable metallic tank (p. 34)
that could resist attacks from dinosaurs and demons, survive
nuclear attacks, and find refuge in a secret hiding place under
ten tons of sand on the side of a mountain in the desert (p.
34). The childs use of this all-powerful toy was an expression
of his anxiety and his desire to control his life. This conclusion is consistent with Shapiro et al. (2006), who stated that
childrens symbolic play depicts their problems and also their
strivings for resolution and gratification (p. 29).
Another example of the retelling of a theme is the twohouse approach described by Kuhli (1983). This technique
involves the introduction of multiple dollhouses in counseling to help children explore and master conflict related to
structural changes in the family unit. Kuhli described a young
child living in a residential treatment facility who was able
to represent her two home environments through the use of
different dollhouses. In this way, she was able to separate her
conflicting feelings about safety and nurturance toward these
environments. By repeatedly reenacting moves between the
homes, she gained a sense of control and power. As Kuhli
described,
Different parts of the child and his or her conflicts are able to
move back and forth symbolically, enabling the child to grieve,
regroup, and accept available solutions to meet needs, and to
create new, more successful substitutes. (p. 279)

Puppets are another therapeutic aid that can be used to facilitate verbal and nonverbal metaphors of the childs internal
and external worlds as well as alternative solutions to problems
(James & Myer, 1987). In counseling, children are permitted to
choose from a variety of puppets and determine the direction
and theme of the story. Sometimes, clients are encouraged to
create their own puppets and puppet theater. The counselor
can either participate in or observe puppet play. Puppets are
believed to be therapeutic for children because they provide
a safe outlet for clients to communicate their thoughts and
emotions. For example, a counselor might suggest that a child
choose puppets and take them behind a table in the treatment
room. The clinician serves as the audience and asks the child
to introduce the puppets before using them to act out a story.
The counselor can interview a puppet character or the child
if further clarification about the meaning of puppet play is
required (Irwin, 1983). In this way, the clinician uses a nonverbal metaphor as the stimulus for verbal discourse. Through
enactment and reenactment, children use puppets to process
significant life events. In clinical examples described by Mills
and Crowley (1986), changes in puppet play were reflective
of childrens cognitive and emotional change. Children meta-

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phorically expressed their inner experience, including changes
that occurred, through the action (i.e., nonverbal metaphor)
and dialogue (i.e., verbal metaphor) of their puppets.
Although the pioneers in play therapy recommended different methods of interpreting childrens play (e.g., Axline,
1947; Klein, 1932/1959), each clients play should always
be considered in terms of the childs unique history (Shirk,
1988). Drucker (1994) adopted a child-centered perspective
when she concluded that metaphors created through play can
themselves be therapeutic, obviating the need for interpretation. Alternatively, Sims and Whynot (1997) suggested that
interpretation can facilitate insight, a view that is consistent
with psychodynamic principles. However, they cautioned that
interpretation should be postponed until the client has been
given sufficient opportunity to explore the metaphor. They
contended that premature interpretations tended to confirm a
clients existing ideas about the self and others, whereas working with the metaphor through the validation and expansion
processes of play reconstruction allows the client to challenge
and revise preexisting beliefs and feelings. Obviously, proper
timing on the part of the counselor is crucial.
The use of play materials and metaphor in counseling can
be illustrated with the case of Sandy, a shy and withdrawn
5-year-old girl who presented to counseling with a history
of abuse and neglect. During her first session, Sandy was
immediately drawn to the dolls and dollhouse where she enacted several scenes involving an angry or absent mother and
a crying child. Over several sessions, Sandy repeated these
themes in her play with the dolls, becoming more animated
and expressive with each session. Eventually, she resolved
the dilemma with the introduction of a grandmother doll who
took the child doll to a new doll home. Through this repetitive
process, Sandy was able to work through her conflict in the
home and find a more satisfying outcome.
Metaphor in art therapy. Many clinicians have used art
activities, such as drawing, painting, and sand play, to help
children express and resolve conflicting thoughts and emotions. Through the manipulation of concrete objects (e.g.,
paint, sand), clients create nonverbal metaphors to represent
and reconstruct their view of self in the context of their cultural
surround. For example, Billy, a 7-year-old boy who had been
abandoned by his mother, was given crayons and paper and
asked to draw an animal that was most like him. Although
Billy was a calm and quiet child throughout therapy, he chose
to draw a ferocious-looking lion and said, The lion is mean,
just like me. It was through the depiction of the angry lion
that the counselor was able to help Billy express and manage
his own anger.
Materials and activities in art therapy are similar to those
used in counseling in that they are recognizable and usually
enjoyable to children. This feature helps young clients to
buffer the metaphorical message within an environment of
receptive familiarity, which in turn helps to release a rich
field of symbols, background structures, and themes (Mills

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& Crowley, 1986, p. 164). Such familiarity relieves anxiety


and helps put children at ease, allowing them to focus on their
therapeutic work. For example, Stolbach (2005) described the
use of drawing with 8-year-old Sam, who had experienced a
scald burn when he was 3 years old. Although Sam verbally
denied any recollection of this traumatic event, he drew a
picture of his recent nightmares that involved a bear. After
observing that the bear drawing was strikingly similar to Sams
drawing of the scalding accident, Stolbach concluded that
Sam had transformed the burning water into the bear and that
the bear nightmares were, in fact, literal reenactments of the
traumatic event (p. 690).
Because of the symbolic meaning attributed to childrens
artistic creations, it is not surprising to discover that many
forms of art therapy are based on Jungian theory. As Carmichael (2006) described, Jungian play therapy involves the
use of symbols to establish a psychic dialogue between the
ego and the self (i.e., personal unconscious and collective
unconscious). Allan (1988) believed that symbol production,
through various artistic methods, can lead to personal growth
and healing by helping to integrate unconscious solutions into
conscious awareness. Although several forms of art therapy
have been used with children, we focus on two in this article:
serial drawing and sand play.
In the play reconstruction technique of serial drawing,
the counselor asks the child to draw the same picture several
times throughout treatment (Allan, 1988). The task of drawing is thought to have curative powers because it allows the
child to express and resolve inner turmoil. As Allan stated,
The 8by-11-inch piece of white paper becomes the safe
place onto which projections are placed, while the symbols
and images become the containers for various emotions, thus
allowing feelings to be expressed (p. 22). Within the context
of a supportive therapeutic environment, children are given
permission to represent and communicate their inner world in
an indirect manner. According to Allan, the symbolization in
a childs drawings offers a picture of the childs view of his or
her world. To understand the child, the counselor must examine
themes in the childs drawings over multiple sessions. In addition to possible benefits for the counselorclient relationship,
the serial drawing technique serves an evaluative function in
which the counselor compares drawings across sessions to
evaluate change over the course of treatment.
Allan (1988) described three therapeutic stages involved
in the use of serial drawings. In the initial stage, drawings
tend to reflect the source of the clients problems (e.g., loss of
control, hopelessness). During this stage, Allan observed that
the counselor may be symbolically represented as a benevolent
character in the childs pictures. In the middle stage of treatment, drawings tend to include the expression of ambivalent
feelings. As the therapeutic relationship grows stronger
during this stage, children may use drawings as an aide to
verbally disclose significant information in treatment. Allan
discussed the shift in imagery and emotional expression that

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he found in childrens drawings during the termination stage.
He described how ambivalence is replaced by themes such
as mastery, control, and self-worth. In contrast to the initial
stage, when the counselor was often pictured in the role of
helper, Allan observed that termination-stage drawings were
likely to depict separation from the counselor.
The three stages described by Allan (1988) are thought
to reflect the transition in a childs emotional world over the
course of counseling. Although the child is initially in a state
of emotional distress, he or she is able to clarify and make
meaning of the sources of conflict, and finally achieve a
positive view of his or her place in the world. Allan reported
that this change was apparent in drawing content and clients
increased willingness to discuss the subject of their drawings
in relation to everyday life.
Allan (1988) suggested that the counselor can be nondirective, directive, or partially directive in the serial drawing
process. For children who respond eagerly to the task and
begin drawing without prompting from the counselor, Allan
believed that a nondirective approach is best. Some children,
however, are hesitant about performing the drawing task. They
may be withdrawn, tentative, or unsure of themselves. With
these children, the counselor can suggest a drawing topic (e.g.,
house, family) to help the client begin the activity. The proposed topic may be general in nature or one that the counselor
deems to be therapeutically significant for the child (e.g., a
family outing, the noncustodial parents home). This practice
of directing the drawing process should be discontinued once
the child seems prepared to create without the counselors
help. When a symbol (e.g., family) holds special significance
for the child, the counselor may ask the child to draw about
this topic every 4 to 6 weeks. This time period allows the
counselor to observe change in the childs depiction of and
relationship to the symbol that is believed to correspond to
developmental shifts.
Another art therapy technique that can be used to stimulate
nonverbal metaphors is sand play, which can be used with
clients as young as 2 years old (Allan, 1988). Kalff (1980)
developed this popular technique by combining her training in
Jungian therapy with the world technique of Margaret Lowenfeld (see Carmichael, 2006). She recommended the use of a
sand tray of limited size (e.g., 57 72 7 cm), which serves
protecting and regulating (Kalff, 1980, p. 31) purposes
for clients by setting a boundary for the childs imagination.
Irwin (1983) noted that this technique is especially beneficial
for children who are resistant to play or those who have difficulty focusing their attention.
With the tray filled halfway with wet or dry sand, children
introduce small objects to create their sand world (Weinrib,
1983). Allan (1988) suggested that counselors provide objects
that are realistic (e.g., people, houses, animals) and mythological or fantastic (e.g., superheroes, castles, dragons). In
addition, families of people and animals can be provided to
allow children to metaphorically represent their own family.

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Whereas many play methods involve interaction with the


counselor, sand play permits children to create a product with
minimal external interference. Using the sand and objects
provided, clients can engage in an activity that is intended to
help children to express the inexpressible, to make visible
that which is indefinable, elusive, a way of projecting the inner
world of feelings (Irwin, 1983, p. 157).
Ryan and Needham (2001) described the use of the sand tray
with Charles, a 9-year-old boy who exhibited trauma-related
symptoms (e.g., sleep problems, irritability) following an accidental fall that required hospitalization and surgery for his
fractured arm. Early in therapy, Charles used dinosaurs to create
sand worlds that had as their themes illness and disaster. An interesting aspect of his play was his use of the sand tray to portray
the triumph of good over evil. This included scenes in which the
dinosaurs became healthy after being sick and rescued others
from danger. The authors described the benefits of the nonverbal
metaphor of sand play, in this case, in the following way:
Charles seemed able to distance himself from his traumatic
experiences, characterized by helpless and frightened feelings,
and a lack of self-efficacy, by using powerful, yet extinct, and
therefore unreal, creatures. In his likely identification with
the dinosaurs physical strength and dominance during play,
Charles seemed to feel safe enough to develop a new perspective on his inner life by a differentiation of good and bad,
illness and healing. (Ryan & Needham, 2001, p. 447)

Although sand play is based on Jungian theory (Allan,


1988; Kalff, 1980), Dale and Lyddon (2000) argued that it
also can be viewed as a constructivist technique for helping children to express and alter their personal realities.
They stated that constructivists believe that there is no one
true reality; instead, there are individual realities that are
dynamic and varied. Sand play offers children the opportunity to create their own reality and exhibit their worldview
through the medium of sand. Sand play also proves useful as
a constructivist technique because of its potential for creating self-organizational processes (Dale & Lyddon, 2000,
p. 143). It is suggested that through sand play, clients move
through developmental stages, from chaos to resolution,
thereby finding organization in their world. Dale and Lyddon
suggested that this technique is a means of effecting both first
and second order change in children. First order change, or
surface change, occurs for children when they enact real-life
situations and discover effective solutions (Dale & Lyddon,
2000, p. 143). Second order change occurs on a deeper level
when children reformulate their view of self in their world.
According to Dale and Lyddon, constructivists believe that
individuals find meaning through symbolic, metaphoric, and
storied means. In sand play, children become the author of
their own stories by utilizing the sand world over a series of
sessions to reflect growth and change. Sand play also can
be used as a narrative technique to help clients externalize

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problems, thereby allowing them to distance themselves from
their difficulties and resolve them metaphorically (Dale &
Lyddon, 2000). For example, the previously described angry
7-year-old Billy might use the figure of a lion to represent
his anger in the sand world. By externalizing his problem
through the concrete object of the lion, the child can separate
himself from his anger and use his imagination to design a
self-control technique (Wagner, 2003, p. 377).
The counselors task during sand play is to observe the
process of the childs play. Clinicians encourage children to
create anything they wish, thereby giving them the freedom
to externalize their inner world. Allan (1988) discouraged
counselor verbalizations during the creation of the sand world.
Instead, the counselor takes note of the childs behavior and
reactions and sometimes sketches the developing sand world
(Weinrib, 1983). Some counselors take photographs of the
sand worlds, and children may benefit from reviewing changes
in these pictures as part of the termination process.
Children use nonverbal metaphor to tell their story through
the sand world, thereby finding meaning through exploration
and change (Dale & Lyddon, 2000). Clients are sometimes
asked to describe their creation to assist the counselor in
interpreting the sand world, although Allan (1988) believed
that counselor interpretation is seldom needed because the
psychological issues are resolved or understood on an unconscious, symbolic level (pp. 214215). He observed that
after creating 8 to 10 sand worlds, children were frequently
described by their teachers as being calmer and more focused.
In contrast to the verbal narratives of older clients, sand play
enables younger children to use concrete objects to metaphorically express abstract ideas and concerns. In this way, the sand
world serves the same function as the verbal metaphors that
adults use in traditional talk therapies.
Metaphor and bibliotherapy. Bibliotherapy, or using literature as a therapeutic medium (Pardeck, 1990, p. 1043),
is another means of allowing children to benefit from the
use of metaphor in counseling. The nonverbal metaphors
contained in the illustrations that often appear on the pages
of childrens books combine with the verbal metaphors in the
text to facilitate exploration of significant life experiences,
including adoption, anger, family relationships, fears, and
peer relationships (Pardeck, 1991).
Bibliotherapy can involve the counselor and client reading
together in session or having parents read developmentally appropriate books to their children. Working within the context
of the story, counselors assist young clients in extracting the
unique lesson that each story has for them. Counselors are
able to help children reframe their problem by asking them
to think of different ways of approaching and resolving the
problem depicted in the story (Bowman, 1995).
Pardeck (1990) compared the use of bibliotherapy with children and adults. Because childrens vocabularies, attention spans,
and life experiences are more limited, young clients tend to resist
direct confrontation of their problems. Pardeck (1990) offered

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a three-step model of intervention: identification, catharsis, and


insight. In the identification stage, the counselor chooses a book
that is related to the childs presenting concern. It is essential that
counselors select books that are developmentally appropriate
in terms of the childs reading level, the theme, the format, and
believability of the characters (Kaplan, 1994). For 9-year-old
Laura, whose older sister had recently died in an automobile
accident, the clinician might select The Fall of Freddie the Leaf
(Buscaglia, 1982). The similarities between the theme of the
book and the childs life should be sufficiently clear for the client
to understand the storys connection to everyday life. In Lauras
case, Freddies autumnal fall from his summer home served as
a metaphor for her sisters death.
The next step in Pardecks (1991) model is the cathartic
stage, in which the child experiences an emotional release.
In this stage, children may express a variety of feelings in
response to the story, including anger, joy, envy, and relief.
As Freddie grows from the small golden bud of spring to the
large green leaf of summer, Laura was prepared for Freddie
to fall from the tree and rest on the first snow of early winter.
With prompting from her counselor, she expressed a variety
of feelings, including sadness and anger, as Freddies life as
a leaf comes to an end.
Finally, in Pardecks (1991) insight stage, the counselor assists the child in developing an understanding and resolution of
the problem. As Freddie fell from the tree, he was finally able
to realize how he was a part of the cycle of life and how the
tree would live on without him for many years to come. The
text-based verbal interpretation and the nonverbal illustrations
in The Fall of Freddie the Leaf (Buscaglia, 1982) combined
to help Laura make meaning of her sisters death.
For younger children, insight can be accomplished by
incorporating drawings or activities related to the story. For
example, Pardeck (1993) recommended the construction of
puppets or collages to allow children to depict emotions represented in their stories and to express their emotional responses
to these narratives. In Lauras case, this could include having
the client use puppets to explore her feelings and those of her
family regarding the loss.
Pardeck (1993) explained how bibliotherapy offers children
developmentally appropriate metaphors for life experiences.
Cowls (1997) used the story The Little Prince (de SaintExupry, 1943) to illustrate how metaphor can help a child
understand the process of counseling:
What must I do to tame you? asked the little prince. You
must be very patient, replied the fox. First you will sit
down at a little distance from melike thatin the grass.
I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will
say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But
you will sit a little closer every day. (p. 59)

The young client can use this metaphor to understand the


development of the childcounselor relationship.

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Verbal Metaphor, Nonverbal Metaphor, or Both?
As mentioned earlier in this article, play therapy for children
involves the use of verbal and nonverbal metaphors. Counselors are not forced into selecting methods that are based on
a false dichotomy in which counselorchild communication
involves either verbal or nonverbal metaphors. Counseling is
primarily a linguistic endeavor (Lester, 1975); thus, counselors
and clients typically communicate using the spoken word,
including verbal metaphors. Because of the unique developmental characteristics of children, counselors who work
with young clients frequently use play-based techniques that
encourage childrens use of nonverbal metaphors. In everyday
practice, counselors adopt an integrated approach in which
verbal and nonverbal metaphors are combined in a developmentally appropriate manner to facilitate childrens expression
of personally relevant thoughts and feelings. Ray, Perkins, and
Oden (2004) provided an example of this integrated approach
in their description of the rosebush fantasy technique.
In the rosebush fantasy technique, Ray et al. (2004) combined
traditional talk methods with a structured drawing activity (for a
description of a three-stage interview protocol, see Allan, 1988)).
After ensuring that the child is relaxed and comfortable in the
session, the counselor asks the client to imagine him- or herself
as a rosebush. To encourage this fantasy, the counselor uses verbal
prompts, such as, What kind of rosebush are you? What are
your stems and branches like? and Are you in a pot or growing
in the ground? (Ray et al., 2004, p. 279). The child is then asked
to portray the fantasy in concrete form by drawing a picture of
him- or herself as a rosebush. When the client has completed
the drawing, counselor and client verbally process the nonverbal
metaphor. As Ray et al. recommended, In order for the child to
maintain a sense of safety, the counselor needs to stay within the
metaphor of the rosebush (p. 279). Allan demonstrated this point
with the 11 questions that he recommended for the postdrawing
inquiry (see Allan, 1988, p. 225).
Ray et al. (2004) used the rosebush technique with Roger,
a troubled 5th-grade child whose father was threatening to
abduct the boy from his school. The authors described the
smallness and compactness of the [boys] drawing and very
little environmental support around the rosebush (p. 280).
Significantly, Roger drew a rosebush without thorns. When his
counselor asked how it felt to be the rosebush, Roger answered,
It doesnt feel good at all. When something picks me up, I
would die if I didnt have thorns (p. 280). When asked how
he would change his drawing, Roger stated, I would draw
two rosebush trees with thorns so that they would protect me.
I would also add thorns to my rosebush. I wouldnt like living
by myself (p. 280). Rogerss use of thorns as a metaphor for
self-protection appears to be a safe and developmentally appropriate way of expressing his vulnerability and his desire
to take control of his life.
The integration of verbal and nonverbal metaphors enables
children such as Roger to share their thoughts and feelings in

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counseling. Restricting the therapeutic process to verbal messages alone can limit the childs disclosure of his or her inner
world. By encouraging verbal and nonverbal metaphors through
the use of the methods just described, counselors can provide
the facilitative environment in which children can safely explore
troublesome events in their lives. Ogawa (2004) described her
play therapy sessions with child survivors of the World Trade
Center attacks. She gave the example of a girl who, 1 month
after the event, used blocks to construct the two towers. In her
fantasy play, the child expressed her desire to overcome feelings
such as helplessness by placing toy shoes on both buildings
so that they could run away in case of emergency (p. 25). The
childs nonverbal metaphor can be integrated with developmentally appropriate talk therapy. As Ogawa observed, Even the
children who initially refused to talk about their experiences
when they are directly questioned started narrating their painful
stories once they started playing, as if toys and the therapeutic
environment defrosted frozen feelings (p. 21).
Therapeutic Metaphor in Practice
In counseling, there are three important creators of therapeutically useful metaphors: the child, the counselor, and the family.
In the following section, we examine the role of each.
The client. The child is viewed as the primary creator of
metaphor in counseling. Metaphor production can be examined on different levels. Peeks (1989), for example, believed
that childrens symptoms were metaphorical representations
of their inner world and their social environment. As we have
discussed, children use play to metaphorically express the
relationship between their inner and outer worlds. When the
relationship between the social context and the symptom is
discovered, the counselor, the child, and the family can work
together to implement therapeutic change. Levitt, Korman,
and Angus (2000) suggested that metaphors in themselves
serve to facilitate insight, to provide new solutions and to
enhance communication and the working alliance (p. 151).
With children, these changes occur as a result of the childs
playful expression and systems-based responses to the presenting problem.
Some children in counseling use verbal metaphors in the
stories they tell. For example, 8-year-old Amy used the story
of an imaginary friend to express her nighttime fearfulness.
During her first counseling session, Amy explained that the
source of her fear was Mister, an imaginary friend who
would try to scare her at night by talking to her in a low voice
and telling her frightening stories. This friend appeared to be
Amys metaphor for her fears and concerns about her parents
separation and disrupted home life. Through the use of her
imaginary friend, Amy was able to express her inner fears in
a nonthreatening manner. Subsequently in counseling, Mister
served as an outlet for Amy and was transformed into a positive figure that would help her with her fears.
Not all children who enter counseling are able to express
themselves using traditional treatment methods, such as play

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and art activities. Drucker (1994) used the term metaphoric
competence (p. 79) to describe a clients ability to create
metaphors. She believed that such competence should be
fostered and developed throughout treatment. This can be a
challenging task because of the complex nature of metaphors,
which Lee and Kamhi (1990) described as being related to a
childs creativity, cognitive and linguistic development, and
abstract reasoning skills. Still, counselors can promote metaphoric competence in children by serving as both an attentive
spectator and validator of client-produced metaphors and as
a cocreator of metaphors in counseling.
Slade (1994) described Nicole, a 7-year-old child who had
difficulty telling her story through play. Nicole came from an
unstable and disorganized family, and she exhibited repetitive
and restrictive play in counseling. As Slade stated, she had no
languagemake-believe or otherwisefor describing what
went on inside her (p. 83). Overt discussion of topics related
to her life led to alienation or denial. During her first session,
for example, Nicole chose to play with several toy squirrels
that made squeaking sounds. Rather than expressing herself
verbally, she chose to have the animals squeak back and forth in
a conversation. When the counselor asked what the squirrels
were saying, Nicole responded without interest, I dont know.
I dont speak their language (p. 83). Gradually, Slade found
that by assisting Nicole in developing the skills to tell a story
using the nonverbal metaphor of the squirrels in play, the child
was able to act out the chaos she experienced at home. More
specifically, by identifying characters and emotions, Nicole
began enacting fight scenes using the squirrels stating, This
is a good guy . . . this is a bad guy . . . pow! boom! crash! (p.
85). Although she did not respond to Slades attempts to verbally
interpret her feelings, Slade construed Nicoles storytelling to
be an attempt to express her feelings in a nonthreatening way.
By learning how to play, the child was able to tell her story in
a way that was therapeutic for her.
The counselor. Competence is an important ethical consideration for any counselor, regardless of the age of the client.
When the client is a child, counselors must have the specialized expertise required for implementing developmentally
appropriate play-based interventions (see Carmichael, 2006).
Competence for the play therapist can be divided into three
categories: knowledge, skills, and personal qualities. First,
counselors must understand the history, theories, and empirical support for play therapies. Then, they must be proficient in
the use of play-based interventions that are appropriate for the
range of problems that bring children to counseling. Finally,
in addition to knowledge and skills, counselors must have an
appreciation for the therapeutic benefits of play.
Although adults continue to engage in play (e.g., sports and
games), counselors need to reconnect with the playfulness of
their youth. They must feel comfortable leaving the counselors chair and sitting on the floor to play with young clients.
This can involve participating in parallel and cooperative art
activities, puppet play, and building wooden block structures.

406

When viewed from a distance, counselorclient play might


resemble interactions that occur outside the treatment room.
An important difference and distinguishing characteristic of
therapeutic play is the counselors appreciation for and understanding of the metaphoric meaning of childrens play. This
sometimes translates into direct intervention with the child.
Counselors can facilitate therapeutic change by presenting the child with a metaphor for his or her problem. One
way to do this is by objectifying the problem so that it can
be discussed separately from the child. Neimeyer (1993)
referred to this as metaphoric distancing from the problem
(p. 226). Wagner (2003) provided two examples of metaphors
used in this way: explosive anger, referred to as the demon,
and unfocused behavior, named the dreamer (p. 373). He
observed that the advantage of this method is that it allows for
direct confrontation of a problem, and redirects the focus from
the child to a mutual opponent the counselor and child can
tackle together. When used in conjunction with traditional play
materials, this method allows the child to view the problem in
a developmentally appropriate, concrete manner.
A second use of counselor-generated metaphors is the
counselors creation of a therapeutic narrative. Gardner (1971)
developed the mutual storytelling technique in which counselors retell a troubled childs story, including its most critical
elements along with a more adaptive ending. Gardner offered
the following story told by 8-year-old Steve:
I have a friend named Andy. We get into a fight. Then we decided
not to have a fight. Then Andy and I met with a big boy and we
both didnt want to fight the big boy. We ignored him.
We met with this monster. It tried to burn us. Then he [the
monster] got himself all smoked and burned. The fire from
his nostrils went the wrong way.
Moral: never try to get into a fight unless you know what
the victim is, how tough or weak. (p. 37)

Gardner (1971) interpreted the story as Steves ambivalence


about expressing anger. Gardner believed that the monsters
inhalation of fire represented the boys repressed hostility. This
theme also was reflected in Steves moral, which represented
his fear of expressing anger. The counselor used this narrative
as the basis for a new story about a dragon that was unable
to breathe smoke and fire, which resulted in body aches and
pains. After a doctor explained how to exhale this smoke and
fire, the dragons physical discomfort disappeared. The moral of
the therapists retelling of the childs narrative was that feelings
should be shared with others rather than held inside.
Stolbach (2005) described another use of therapist narrative in his work with 8-year-old Sam, who had experienced a
scald burn at 3 years of age.
I introduced the metaphor of a race in which only one of the
runners must carry a boulder: the other runners will get to
the finish line first, but that does not mean the runner with the

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boulder is slow. In fact, the strongest runner is the one who
must carry the boulder. He will get to the finish line later than
the other runners, but his achievement will be much more
impressive. (p. 692)

After Stolbach shared this narrative, Sam depicted the race in a


drawing. He drew himself carrying a rock surrounded by cheering
spectators. Stolbach believed that this intervention allowed Sam
to view a previously perceived weakness as a strength.
Bowman (1995) offered a six-step model by which counselors can collaboratively develop and use metaphors with
children. First, the counselor collects information from the
child about his or her preferences, such as favorite animals
and hobbies, which are incorporated into a story to capture
the childs interest. The counselor then assesses the clients
strengths and coping abilities, which are merged into a
strengths-based metaphor. Bowman recommended that clinicians determine the childs preferred sensory style and mode
of thinking to select the best way to present the metaphor. The
counselor then evaluates the childs presenting concerns, either
by directly asking the client about problems or by inferring
the presence of possible difficulties through the use of play
therapy. At that point, the counselor reviews the information
obtained in the previous steps and devises a story that incorporates these components. The metaphorical story is relayed
to the child, who is then asked to examine the story and to
offer alternative solutions and outcomes.
By using Bowmans (1995) six-step process, counselors are
able to individualize verbal metaphors to the clients presenting concerns, strengths, and interests. The creation of each
narrative is a collaborative process between the counselor and
client. The introduction of the story in counseling can help
the child feel understood. It is also a way for counselors to
provide feedback to the child in a safe and familiar manner.
Bowman provided an example of a school counselor who,
upon recognizing the salience of a Ferrari to a hyperactive boy,
related the boys behavior to a Ferrari that goes too fast. The
story of the Ferrari was well-received by the boy, and the use
of this metaphor was continued throughout counseling.
The family. Sims and Whynot (1997) suggested that familygenerated metaphors are an important component of familybased treatments. The authors described a seven-stage model
for using metaphors in family therapy: hearing the metaphor,
validating the metaphor, expanding the metaphor, playing with
possibilities, involving others in the metaphor, attending to and
then selecting the metaphor that will best help the situation,
and connecting the metaphor to the future.
Sims and Whynot (1997) described the use of their model
with the family of 15-year-old Andrea and 13-year-old Lyle. The
counselor first heard Andreas metaphor of her father putting
the children in the same boat (Sims & Whynot, 1997, p. 347).
This metaphor was validated and then expanded by using the
mothers metaphor of the father putting the children in different
boats, with Lyle in a galley slave boat and Andrea in a nice

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sailboat (p. 348). During Stages 4 and 5, the counselor explored


possibilities and involved family members in metaphor creation
by asking them to describe the role that each person would play
while they were in the boat. After discussing these variations
on the metaphor, the family was asked to select metaphors to
best express their situation. The mother focused on the cargo
on the boat that needed to be carried and asked, Why should
the mother carry all the cargo? (p. 349). The verbal metaphors
generated during this session subsequently were used to work
through family conflict.
Manicom and Boronska (2003) discussed family applications of art metaphors, which they believed are appropriate
for minimizing conflict in a safe and nonthreatening manner.
Guttman (1975) observed that children sometimes find it difficult to directly discuss challenging feelings in family counseling. Through art activities, children have a safer mechanism
for creating metaphors that can be openly considered by the
family. For example, Sims and Whynot (1997) described an
8-year-old boy in family counseling who described his home
life by drawing a picture of an airplane dropping bombs on a
house. The drawing was used to elicit discussion among family
members and to encourage the parents to recognize how their
bombshells were affecting the entire family.
Family counselors also use objects, or nonverbal metaphors, to symbolize aspects of the presenting problem. Huss
and OConner (1995) described a family that was facing
marital transition. On the basis of their clinical work with
children of divorced families, the authors used the metaphor of
a balloon to represent this significant systems-based event.
A couple who have separated experience the loss of a dream
similar to a balloon that has holes in it. A balloon with holes can
never be filled with air again just as a marriage that has ended
through separation and divorce cannot be revived. (p. 215)

Huss and OConner (1995) incorporated this metaphor into


family sessions in a developmentally appropriate manner that
facilitated externalization of the presenting problem. With the
children present, the parents blew up balloons as they described
their courtship, and then slowly deflated the balloons as they
spoke of their separation. They then stuck pins in three balloons
and gave one to each child. The counselor described the metaphor to the children using a puppet, who presented them with
a deflated balloon, explained the significance, and facilitated a
demonstration in which the children were asked to try to blow up
the broken balloon. The counselor asked the parents to perform
this activity each night with the children. The use of a physical
object as the metaphor for the parents divorce was found to
be successful in decreasing the children negative behaviors
and facilitating acceptance among the members of the family.

Limitations
Several limitations should be noted regarding the use of verbal
and nonverbal metaphors with children. When the child gener-

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ates the metaphor, the counselor must be an active observer of
the therapeutic process and continuously reevaluate the purpose
and progress of treatment. Clinicians are advised to encourage
children to develop verbal and nonverbal metaphors, but they
must avoid becoming complacent, thereby failing to provide the
direction and structure that some children require. Counselors
must also exercise caution when interpreting childrens metaphors. Some clients use metaphors to express anxiety-provoking
material, so they may not be prepared to acknowledge interpretations of underlying thoughts and feelings. As mentioned
earlier in this article, counselors must carefully assess the childs
readiness for feedback and examine possible consequences of
an interpretation before conveying it to the child. If the child
rejects an interpretation, the counselor should withdraw it and
possibly revise and offer the interpretation at a more timely
point in treatment (Winnicott, 1971).
Limitations also arise in cases in which counselors generate
therapeutic metaphors (Bowman, 1995). Clinicians must be
careful to ensure that the metaphors used do not impose their
own values on children, leading them to lecture rather than
facilitate personal growth and discovery. Appropriate therapeutic metaphors encourage children to explore their world,
rather than direct them to think or behave in a certain manner.
Again, the timing of the metaphor is important. Counselorgenerated metaphors that are introduced too quickly may
disrupt the therapeutic relationship. In addition, counselors
should consider the appropriateness of this technique as
compared with alternative approaches. Some children respond
better if they are allowed to express themselves metaphorically
through play, rather than through metaphors that have been
created by the counselor. Clinicians need to be aware of the
signs of trouble and adjust their intervention appropriately.
This includes recognizing significant changes in the child,
including abrupt and dramatic shifts in the focus and activity
level of verbalization and play behaviors.
Clinicians must also take certain precautions when using
metaphors generated by others, as in the case of bibliotherapy.
This approach is not likely to be successful with children who
are more physically active or emotionally distracted. Counselors
must also consider the childs attitude toward reading, including the enjoyment of books, before incorporating childrens
literature into treatment (Pardeck, 1990). The amount of time
children spend reading appears to be declining, whereas the
time they spend watching television, using computers, and
playing videogames is increasing (Dorr & Rabin, 1995). In the
future, these modalities may become appropriate therapeutic
interventions for children who dislike reading.
A practical limitation of many of the methods discussed
here is counselor access to appropriate play materials (Landreth, 2002). Clinicians who use sand play must have a sand
tray and a large selection of miniature figures and objects that
children can use in creating their sand world. Art therapists
must have paints, colored pencils or markers, paper, and protective aprons for children. Bibliotherapists must have a library

408

of childrens literature that is culturally diverse (Beaty, 1997),


relevant to difficult childhood problems (Pardeck, 1990), and
appropriate for clients at a variety of developmental levels
(Wagner, 2003).

Research
Given the popularity of play-based interventions for children
and the recent interest in therapeutic metaphors, one would
expect to find a broad range of empirical studies on the use
of these techniques with young clients. Although empirically
based play therapies have been developed (Reddy, Files-Hall, &
Schaefer, 2005), there is relatively little data-based research that
focuses on childrens use of verbal and nonverbal metaphors in
treatment. Considerable work is needed before researchers can
draw informed conclusions about the role of metaphor on the
process and outcome of counseling with children. The recent
emphasis on empirically supported treatments (Chambless et
al., 1998) has led some (e.g., see Russ & Ollendick, 1999) to
conclude that treatment viability increasingly rests on empirical evidence for the efficacy and effectiveness of counseling
techniques. This applies to the use of verbal and nonverbal
metaphors that can be studied using quantitative, qualitative,
and integrated methods such as the quantitativequalitative
design used by Kush and Cochran (1993). Following are our
recommendations for future studies in this area.
An important step in the study of therapeutic metaphors
with children is the development of psychometrically sound
measures of verbal and nonverbal metaphors, as told and exhibited by young clients. One approach is to adapt measures
that have been used with adults in counseling (e.g., see Dale
& Wagner, 2003). An alternative, of course, is the development of instruments that are designed specifically for use
with children (e.g., see Niec & Russ, 2002; Russ, Niec, &
Kaugars, 2000). Although several researchers have developed
measures for studying childrens play behaviors, investigators
have given relatively little attention to the empirical study of
metaphors in child counseling. There is an obvious need for
developmental and treatment-focused research in this area.
These studies should include analyses of the role of age,
gender, ethnicity, and developmental level in young clients
use of verbal and nonverbal metaphors. Heffner, Greco, and
Eifert (2003), for example, used metaphors to teach relaxation
skills to children and found a positive relationship between
cognitive functioning and treatment compliance.
Researchers must also explore the meaning of childrens
metaphors. Dale and Wagner (2003) conducted what must be
considered a preliminary study in this area when they used
their child adaptation of the Self-Confrontation Method (Hermans & Hermans-Jansen, 1995) to have children describe the
perspective of the figure in their sand world that was most
like them (p. 25). Likewise, Grubbs (1995) developed a
qualitative measure of sand play themes, the creation process,
and changes in sand world scenes across counseling sessions.

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Using this measure, she found differences in the sand play
themes and scenes of two sexually abused and three nonclinical children.
Researchers are encouraged to consider qualitative designs
for studying the meaning of verbal and nonverbal metaphors for
children. As Patton (1990) stated, qualitative methods of inquiry
enable the investigator to examine selected issues in depth and
detail (p. 13). With an approach similar to that adopted by Dale and
Wagner (2003), interviews with children could be used to explore
the meaning of artistic and other play-based creations. For this
method to be successful, researchers must conduct developmentally
appropriate interviews with children. This can be a challenging
task, especially when the investigator is hoping to discover the
symbolic or abstract meaning of nonverbal metaphors created by
the preoperational or concrete operational child.
Qualitative methods can also be used to study counselors
interpretations of childrens play. For example, investigators could provide practitioners with videotaped segments
of play therapy and ask them to report the meaning of play
behaviors. Programmatic research in this area could be expanded to the use of quantitative, qualitative, and integrated
methods to examine practitioners interpretations of verbal
and nonverbal metaphors. Researchers could experimentally
control for treatment-related factors (e.g., client background
and presenting problem) and examine respondents agreement
about childrens metaphors. Similar research should be conducted to evaluate clientcounselor agreement regarding the
meaning of childrens play. In an analogue study, the stories
that children tell about their sand worlds could be compared
with independent observers reporting of the same, based on
their observation of videotapes or photographs of childrens
creations in the sand.
Research on childrens narratives also represents another
important area for investigation. Shapiro et al. (2006) noted
the many qualitative investigations and case studies (p. 149)
on the outcome of narrative methods, but they described the
dearth of quantitative research in this area. Investigators must
expand their efforts in this regard by developing psychometrically sound methods for studying the content of childrens
stories. These efforts should take into consideration cultural
influences (Costantino, Malgady, & Rogler, 1994; Malgady
& Costantino, 2003; Michaels & Cazden, 1986) and the
structure of childrens narratives and counselors interpretation and retelling of these stories (Russell, van den Broek,
Adams, Rosenberger, & Essig, 1993). Building on the current
foundation of qualitative data, researchers should conduct
quantitative and integrated studies to expand the understanding of childrens use of narratives in counseling.
The study of verbal metaphors in child counseling, combined with research on nonverbal therapeutic metaphors, will
provide important information that can be used to develop
empirically supported, metaphor-based interventions for
young clients. As Heffner et al. (2003) stated, Many questions
remain about the use of metaphors in counseling (p. 30).

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Counselors and researchers are encouraged to study the many


unanswered questions that exist regarding the therapeutic uses
of verbal and nonverbal metaphors and their relationship with
traditional linguistic approaches to treatment. The foundation for this effort can be found in the developing literature
on empirically based play therapies (see Reddy et al., 2005).
Adapting existing quantitative and qualitative methods and
designing integrated methods for the study of verbal and
nonverbal metaphors with children in counseling represents
the next step in exploring the process and outcome of both
forms of therapeutic expression.

Summary
Previous discussions of the therapeutic uses of metaphors
have, for the most part, focused on traditional talk therapies
with adults. By expanding the definition of metaphor to include both verbal and nonverbal expressions of the clients
world, counselors can make greater use of this important
tool with children in counseling. By capitalizing on the
young clients enjoyment of play, art activities, and childrens
literature, counselors can help clients generate metaphors to
externalize their problems and find solutions for common
developmental challenges.

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