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Review of "Metaphoria: Metaphor and Guided Metaphor for Psychotherapy and Healing"

By Rubin S. Battino
Crown House, 2002
Review by Shelly Marshall, B.S., CSAC on Jan 25th 2004
Metaphoria: Metaphor and Guided Metaphor for Psychotherapy and Healing

 Our most cherished beliefs and deeply held convictions are the stories we tell ourselves that shape our world. In Metaphoria, Rubin Battino, M.S., leads the reader to believe that metaphors, the time-honored tradition of storytelling for healing, is so complex an art and our patients so fragile, that only precise and elaborately crafted psychotherapeutic metaphors may be used to heal the wounded spirit. Battino is so precise, in fact, that the causal reader will quickly be sucked into a quagmire of options for healing with directives for pacing, anchoring, use of themes, subthemes, and meta models of language accompanied by a litany of therapeutic instructions that will swamp any serious therapist with uncertainly about their ability to work in this milieu. The author demonstrates how to shape stories for culture, race, problem, background, style, size and soon, we surmise, blood type. In this book, our world is quickly shaped into Battino's Bog (a metaphoric comparison he might appreciate, albeit defensively).

 I think most clients are more resilient than portrayed in Metaphoria, and that metaphoric-based therapies are much less complex then presented. Rubin Battino must know this too, because his own personal observations and comments are absolutely brilliant. It occurred to me, reading his assessments on other's work and how to apply it, that the author simply didn't want to leave any stone unturned or be accused of any type of simplicity in his presentation. The trouble is, using symbolic therapies in healing is simple. It's only the therapists who complicate it.

 In Chapter One after a brief history, Battino describes the difference between disease and illness and how that relates to patients healing themselves. It would make a great paper on its own. Chapter Two delves into the language for metaphor. The author's use of language and directions for the use of language are the book's strong points. "The meaning of any communication is the response that you get," he writes. We learn that it is not what you intend to say or teach that matters, but what is understood.

 It is in Chapter Three and Four, regarding the delivery of the metaphor and the basic metaphor, where the book begins to place an undue burden on the therapist. Here, all the work is taken away from the client and placed squarely on the "expert." "--that is, the stories are created and told by the therapist to the client with specific purposes in mind. In that sense, these are therapist-generated rather than client-generated." Since the book is written for the therapist and not the layman, I suppose it is prudent to give the therapist work to do, but this approach is one that empowers the therapist and not the client. 

 The entire book then recites the work of others and Rubin suggests improvements for their work. Surprisingly, his suggestions on specific metaphoric stories seem to take the simple work of others and catapult them into works of substance. For example, in his commentaries about the Berman and Browns' "The Book of Life" guided journey, Battino notes that it is not necessary to close your eyes for these exercises. This is simplistic but something not many professionals know. He also comments on specific, unnecessary or even scary suggestions, "I am not sure I would want to 'sink backward through time' or 'pass through the gateway of reality.'" He is not afraid to build on the work of others (rather than cleverly disguising the work as his own), and he is not afraid to tout his own skills because Battino believes in himself. It is a non-humble and refreshing approach.

 The reader will find numerous metaphors they can use and a myriad of instructions they can't. The book contains some not-to-be-missed segments such as the Navajo Talking Circles and a treatise on Viktor Frankl. It also contains some absolutely enchanting metaphors like the one used with children's fears, The Slimy Green Monster, wherein the child's mother tells the slimly green monster that she's going tell his mommy on him. What a charming way to neutralize a child's fear! Yet that story is preceded by an explanation on multiple embedded metaphors that will cause the struggling reader to sink rapidly in the quicksand of micro-metaphor-managing..

 I would suggest that readers, in order to stay in their comfort zone, read only the summaries at the end of the chapters and the metaphors themselves. But then the reader would miss gems like the quote on page 152, "{Erickson} almost single-handedly moved the field away from its obsession with 'why' to focus on the pragmatism of 'how.'" The author explains, on the next page, that this shift in thinking may be the "beginnings of the 'third wave' of doing therapy—the first was psychoanalysis, the second was the problem-focused therapies like Gestalt therapy, NLP, behavioral therapy, cognitive etc" and the third being "personal narratives as the vehicle for change."

Personal narratives, utilizing symbolic therapies through metaphor, are an incredible third wave of doing therapy. But after all, it is only a new use of a primal path to healing, the art of storytelling. I think the author over-intellectualizes the process, micro-manages the metaphors, and at the same time offers insights I would not be without. Despite the limitations, the book's strengths insure that I will keep Battino's work in my reference library for many years to come.


© 2004 Shelly Marshall


Shelly Marshall, B.S., CSAC is an Adolescent Chemical Dependency Specialist and Researcher. You can visit her site at