Metaphor Restructuring – A new Approach to Psychotherapy

By David John Oates

Metaphor Restructuring is the name given to a unique technique for working with the human mind utilising a combination of hypnosis and Reverse Speech therapy. Reverse Speech is the study of unconscious messages embedded backwards into the sounds of human speech. I first began to research this phenomenon in 1983 and found that human language contained many backward messages occurring on a regular basis. I wrote my theory of Reverse Speech in 1987 and proposed that language was bi-levelled, forwards and backwards. This reversed form of language, or Reverse Speech, comes from various levels of the human mind. On the surface level, it may reveal the truth if someone is telling a lie. At deeper levels, it can reveal hidden aspects of us, and at even deeper levels still it speaks in metaphor or archetype. It is these metaphoric phrases that are of the primary interest in this article.

When I first found these metaphors in reverse I had no idea what they meant. I would find phrases such as “The surf is high”, “Lancelot has a sword”, “See the wolf fallen in the lake.” Then in 1988 I was introduced to the works of Carl Jung and given a new understanding about these metaphors. I recognised many of the images Jung talked about in his books as being the same as the ones I was finding in reverse speech. I wondered if the metaphors were not some way in which the unconscious mind was speaking. I searched my reverse speech transcripts for common trends and they started to appear.

Using what I had termed the principal of Speech Complementarity (the forwards and reverse relate to each other), I began to notice that certain metaphors often appeared in the same forward context. For example if someone was speaking forwards about being motivated and directed in life they may use the term, wolf, in reverse. Furthermore they may describe this wolf in even more specific terms, such as magnificent wolf, or sick wolf. The phrase, Goddess, was a common metaphor I was finding and it appeared when people were speaking forwards of hope for the future and their goals and dreams.

As time went on I found common connections with many metaphors and began to compile a Reverse Speech Metaphor Dictionary. This dictionary now has over a 1000 metaphors listed together with their suggested meanings. As I began to work with clients in the late 1980s I found that with an understanding of the metaphoric images I could gain an amazing insight into the inner workings of the unconscious mind. Many times, the reasons and causes of behaviour would be described in vivid detail using metaphors. For example, someone who had no hope for the future might say in reverse, ”My Goddess is blind” Someone who was living in poverty with no motivation might say. “My sick wolf in the slums.” Sometimes metaphors can get complex using several images in one phrase such as, “The Goddess walked with the noble wolf,” or “A whirlwind moved Satan in the river.” Once understood, these complex metaphors would often pinpoint precise reasons for emotional, psychological or physical issues.

In the early 1990s I began to understand metaphors at an even deeper level and saw them not merely as phrases to be translated but rather as living structures of the unconscious mind. I theorised that at the deepest levels of consciousness, the human mind thought in pictures and images, or metaphors. These metaphors formed the basics building blocks of behaviour and personality. I wondered if it was possible to change these metaphoric structures of the unconscious and hence change the behaviour they represented.

I had previously taken training in hypnosis and NLP and it was these modalities that I began to use in my very first experiments.

I began my process by placing my client in a relaxed hypnotic state. I then asked them to visualise in their mind the metaphor as it had appeared in their reverse speech transcript. For example, if the reversal had said “The sultan in weeds,” I would ask them to visualise an image of a Sultan caught in some weeds. One of the first things I noticed was that my clients were able to visualise the images with ease and clarity, even though some clients claimed that in the past they had been unable to visualise.

Next, I experimented with changing the metaphor, or image, that was dysfunctional. I would ask my client whose Sultan was in weeds, to take the Sultan out of the weeds. It was a powerful experiment. Many clients described the experience as emotional and spiritual. Most experienced change in their lives in the area that the metaphor seemed to be influencing.

In time, I tried more complex visualisations by working with 3-4 metaphors at once. I wrote these metaphors into a story. For example, I would take my clients into a desert and have them find their wolf. They might go hunting together and maybe find a nice river to rest beside. There might be an eagle that joins them, or a horse. At times, I would take my clients on journeys to Camelot, or the Garden of Eden – whatever metaphors the reversals used is what I would use as my trance images. In nearly all cases, my clients described the journeys as moving and profound, and began to notice changes in their lives.

In 1993 I introduced another step to my rapidly evolving process that I had already entitled “Metaphor Restructuring”. I was having difficulty in writing some journeys because I did not have enough information in the reversals from the first taping, so I started to do a second taping. I did this second taping a week after I had reported the reversals to my client. It was the purpose of this tape to see if I could gain further reversals that would tell me what to do. In this second taping I would ask my client to start talking about possible solutions to their problem, even though they may not know consciously what they were. I would ask them questions about specific metaphors such as, “How do we take the Sultan out the weeds?”, or “What do you need to achieve your goals?” I was hoping that the unconscious mind would give answers in the form of speech reversals.

Amazingly, it did.

I found a whole new level of reverse speech in the form of reversals that gave specific metaphoric instruction as to how to change current unconscious patterns. They said things like: “Warm me in the ship,” “Use the Earl to free the Sultan.” or “Send a whirlwind to shift this devil out.”

My metaphor journeys, which I had entitled, ‘Metawalks’, became even deeper and richer still. Many times my clients would see the images before I suggested them. This was a great confirmation to me that we really were working with the unconscious using its own language of metaphor. Now I was using reverse speech to diagnose my client’s problem as well as providing solutions and was working with the deepest levels of the human mind.

By 1995, I had finished developing the process and it now consisted of 7 steps. Firstly, I would record my client for 30 minutes and find their speech reversals. I would then report my findings to my client and a week later I would conduct the second recording which I entitled the “Pre-walk” tape. I then gave two Metawalks, spaced a week apart and added an additional step a week after that where I did a third recording. The purpose of this recording was to see what metaphoric changes had taken place and what, if anything, still needed to be done. I would frequently find reversals in this tape that showed the changes taking place. Some examples are, “I’ve got a new wolf within me,” “Living in the Earth with joy,” “My Sultan is free.” I then followed this third taping by a final metawalk to round off the changes.

I have been using this process in my therapeutic practice for 12 years now. In that time I have seen it used for a variety of issues and I have seen some amazing changes in my clients. I have seen clients with life long weight issues shed their weight within a few months, I have seen businessmen increase their income by addressing unconscious blocks, I have seen depression relieved, I have seen marriages saved and life long seemingly unsolvable problems washed away with a few metawalks.

It is truly an awesome process. I invite you to explore it further.

Click here to read one man’s amazing journey through Reverse Speech session work.