Depression: Finding the Path to Wellness Through Metaphor

I once had a new client come to my office and when he sat down, his shoulders slumped as he bent his torso over his knees, his hands pressed together in a kind of prayer like position. I asked him why he had come in and what he would like to have happen and, as he told me, he looked down towards his hands and feet with heavy eyes. He spoke of a series of circumstances in his life when he had struggled, each confirming his worst fears and leading him to believe that things wouldn’t work out for him because, no matter how hard he tried, he was not worthy, he was not lucky, life is not fair, and he just was not good enough or special enough to be valued.

It doesn’t take a psychologist to suspect that he was depressed. Before his words said that, his body language told the story. And I knew several things in those early moments:

• Healing needed to happen from the inside out;

• There was a need to look at things differently to build hope and self value, self confidence, and self worth;

• My clues for how to help were as much in HOW the problems were presented as in the problems themselves.

I have learned, over the years, a thing or two about depression and I knew that I needed to get this man to stop looking at the limited physical space of the dark ground in which he was metaphorically stuck and start looking up towards connection and hope. I knew that he needed to find his resources and build from there and that part of that would be him opening himself to the world inside and outside of himself. To get the ball rolling, I needed to get his attention, build rapport to begin to restore hope and connection, and help him “come back to life.” By the time people who are in a depression come to see me, they have probably already heard many pieces of sound advice and many well meant niceties like, “cheer up” and even lists of all of the valuable things about them. When they get to me, I know that they probably need something that will speak with a deeper language of meaning and get to the heart of the matter, to the realm of the deep itself: the unconscious.

There is no better way to speak to the unconscious that I have found than metaphor. In the case at hand, I listened carefully to who this person was and thought about what he might relate to and then I asked him a question that engaged him (step one!) so that he would look up in an alert and interested way and make eye contact. This woke him up and connected him to another person, in this case me, and since he was meeting with me because he was looking for help, there was a presupposition that what I was saying would be helpful. The fact that he didn’t know how or why was part of what got him curious and that was good.

The casual and peculiar question that I asked him is if he knew what a geod was. He had mentioned that he liked nature so a geod seemed like it might both be something he would be interested in and would indirectly and hypnotically remind him of something that made him happy (much more effective than saying to a depressed person, “cheer up and think happy thoughts.”).

Turns out he did not know what a geod was so I explained that a geod is the plainest, often the ugliest looking rock, one that does not seem valuable at all to the untrained eye. A geod naturally occurs and might look like nothing but, for those who recognize it, as a wise expert would, if you break open a geod you will find the most extraordinary thing inside: you will find a world of magnificent crystals. I went on to tell him about how different geods have different colored crystals inside, forming different sizes and shapes. All are extraordinary and quite individual. Geods are plain looking little holders of magnificent and precious worlds for those who have the eyes to see.

While I was talking to him with increasing animation, I noticed that my client sat up straighter, kept eye contact with me and, for those few minutes, forgot his problems. It was as if I had reminded him of his soul, as if I had seen some secret part of his best self that he wouldn’t have dared to hear directly of or hope that someone would validate.

Often, I think, the best way to heal pain that we hold inside is through the unconscious realms, but only when the metaphor, the story, speaks the truth. And when it does, the twinkle in someone’s eyes comes back.

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