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Bridging Perspectives: Harnessing Client-Generated Metaphors in Coaching

In Episode #1175 of the Arete Coach Podcast, Lyssa DeHart, a Master Certified Coach (MCC), speaker, author, and mentor, discusses her transition from therapist to Master Certified Coach. Renowned for her expertise in executive and leadership coaching, Lyssa emphasizes how her therapeutic skills seamlessly integrated into her coaching practice.

During the episode, she explores the concept of using metaphors in coaching, as elaborated in her book, "Light Up, The Science of Coaching with Metaphors." Lyssa illustrates the significance of engaging with client-generated metaphors, such as “my plate is full,” and how these can be strategically used to foster client growth. This insight article further explores how coaches can effectively utilize such metaphors to guide clients towards personal and professional growth.

Metaphors in Coaching

In the coaching context, metaphors are invaluable for helping clients explore and adopt new perspectives. Jonathan Passmore highlights the effectiveness of metaphors, noting that they often serve as a bridge from the tangible to the abstract, aiding clients as they navigate from their current reality to an uncertain future. He describes this transition as powerful for coaching, because it leverages the client's existing knowledge to embrace less familiar concepts (Passmore, 2022). Similarly, Smith et al. in The British Journal of Occupational Therapy emphasize that metaphors facilitate deep reflection and provide fresh insights (2023). By integrating metaphors into their practice, coaches enable clients to forge connections between well-understood ideas and new, more complex ones, thus deepening their understanding and enhancing their learning process.

Through the use of metaphors, clients create vivid mental imagery that directs their focus toward success. When clients visualize themselves conquering obstacles and embodying resilience, they cultivate a robust sense of confidence. This synergy between mind and body supports emotional balance and sharpens decision-making abilities. Engaging regularly with these techniques not only quickens the acquisition of skills but also strengthens dedication to their objectives. Collectively, these practices promote a positive mindset, enabling individuals to unlock their full potential and attain impressive outcomes.

Leveraging Client-Generated Metaphors

The goal of leveraging client-generated metaphors in coaching is multifaceted, aiming to deepen understanding, enhance communication, and facilitate both personal and professional growth. By engaging with metaphors that clients naturally use, coaches can enhance insight into clients’ thought processes, emotions, and underlying beliefs. This approach not only demonstrates active listening and validation, increasing client engagement, but also strengthens the coaching relationship.

Using the metaphor mentioned above, "my plate is full" as an example, you could respond by asking, "What would you like to do with your plate? What elements do you want to keep, and what would you prefer to remove?" According to Lyssa DeHart, reframing questions this way helps to simplify overwhelming situations, making them more manageable. This approach not only demystifies the problem but also aligns with the client's own language, enhancing communication and understanding. By leveraging the client’s metaphor, you engage directly with their perspective.

Client-Generated Metaphors

"Juggling too many balls"

This metaphor is used to describe a situation where someone is trying to manage multiple tasks or responsibilities at once, often feeling overwhelmed. It highlights the challenge of prioritizing and maintaining balance. Questions you could ask include:

  • "Which balls are most important for you to keep in the air?"

  • "Are there any that you could set down for now?"

  • "How can we rearrange your priorities to reduce the feeling of overwhelm?"

"At a crossroad"

This metaphor represents a critical decision point where multiple options or directions are possible, requiring careful consideration and choice. It often symbolizes a significant life or career transition. Questions you could ask include:

  • "What paths are available to you at this crossroad?"

  • "What might you find down each path?"

  • "Which path aligns most closely with your long-term goals?"

"Drowning in responsibilities"

This metaphor illustrates an overwhelming feeling caused by having too many responsibilities or pressures, often leading to stress or burnout. It suggests a need for support or relief. Questions you could ask include:

  • "What can we do to bring you back to the surface?"

  • "Are there any lifelines or support that you can reach for?"

  • "How can we prioritize or delegate your responsibilities to alleviate this burden?"

"Climbing a mountain"

This metaphor is often used to depict a challenging journey towards a significant goal, involving obstacles and requiring perseverance. It reflects ambition and the need for preparation. Questions you could ask include:

  • "What does the peak represent for you?"

  • "What tools or support do you need to reach the summit?"

  • "How will you measure your progress as you ascend?"

"Running on empty"

This metaphor describes a state of exhaustion where one feels they have little left to give, either emotionally or physically. It emphasizes the need for rejuvenation. Questions you could ask include:

  • "What refuels you?"

  • "How can we find a way to replenish your energy?"

  • "What changes can you make to prevent running on empty in the future?"

"Carrying a heavy load"

This metaphor is used to express the burden of carrying multiple responsibilities, worries, or stresses, which can be overwhelming or exhausting. It suggests the need for lightening this load. Questions you could ask include:

  • "What’s in your load that feels heaviest?"

  • "How can we lighten it, or distribute the weight more evenly?"

  • "What support or resources might help you manage this load better?"

"In a fog"

This metaphor implies a state of confusion, lack of clarity, or uncertainty, making it hard to see the way forward. It often describes situations where decision-making is difficult. Questions you could ask include:

  • "What might help clear the fog for you?"

  • "Are there landmarks you could focus on to guide your way through?"

  • "What steps can we take to gain clarity on your situation?"

"Building walls"

This metaphor indicates creating emotional or psychological barriers, often as a defense mechanism to protect oneself from vulnerability or hurt. It suggests isolation or resistance to external influences. Questions you could ask include:

  • "What are these walls protecting you from?"

  • "Is there a gate you might open, or a window you could look through?"

  • "How might lowering these walls improve your relationships or well-being?"

The main takeaway

The utilization of client-generated metaphors in coaching, as discussed by Lyssa DeHart on the Arete Coach podcast, offers a critical tool in the enhancement of personal and professional development. By embracing metaphors, coaches not only deepen their engagement with clients but also facilitate a creative pathway for individuals to articulate and navigate their experiences and challenges. This approach supports a richer, more empathetic understanding and encourages a proactive stance in problem-solving and goal-setting. The potential for these metaphorical frameworks to transform coaching practices is immense, providing both coaches and clients with a dynamic mechanism for growth and change.


Passmore, J. (2022). The role of metaphors in coaching. The Coaching Psychologist, 18(1), 44–46.

Smith, K. S., Kinsella, E. A., Moodie, S., McCorquodale, L., & Teachman, G. (2023). Metaphors of mindfulness in pediatric occupational therapy practice. British Journal of Occupational Therapy.

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