Pathway or Stream? A Metaphor for Non-directive Hypnosis

Brought to you by Creative Healing for Youth in Pain's Parenting Blog

Rebecca Cherry, MD, MPH
May 8, 2023 / 2 mins read

Winston Porter/Wayfair painting

This painting is the most recent addition to my office walls. I don't even know the name of the artist who painted the original – it's from the company Winston Porter, bought on the Wayfair website. It came straight to the office in a cardboard box and has been greeting patients ever since.

What I like about this painting is a certain degree of ambiguity. What exactly is that expanse between the rows of trees? Is it a path heading off into the distance? Or is it a quietly flowing stream, reflecting the colors of the sky and clouds and leaves?

When working with a patient, I always prefer to be less directive rather than more directive. In other words, the goal is to have someone use their own imagination to create the imagery or metaphors that best fit their situation. If the image which appeals to them more is a stream, or a meadow, or woods, or a path, or a bridge, or a fluffy cloud reflected in the water, then that is the image they ought to construct. The objects and pictures in the office are meant as a "jumping off" point, for those who need a little guidance or inspiration.

I may have more expertise than my patients in some areas, but the patients have more expertise in themselves! Who can presume to know what another person's pain feels like, or which solutions are most meaningful? That's the advantage to this kind of flexible and personalized approach to hypnosis – no scripts, no requirements, but gentle guidance to the self-generated images and insights which are ultimately the most helpful.