Discussion point on EAPs

Discussion/Consideration Point: Outsourcing of employee support; EAPs offering counselling as an alternative to in-house welfare

Working for an EAP you find a number of employees of the same organization all complaining of stress. Whilst some have stressful personal circumstances, they all describe similar issues at work. You can work with their coping strategies at work, but there is no avenue open to address the organizational issues. The assumption is that the problem lies in each employee’s lack of resilience or poor coping strategies, and that the focus of the work will be to remedy these so that they can better adapt to the work environment.

Can you think of other examples?

Exercise on Metaphors

Exercise on Metaphors: The ‘Embodied Mind’ and the Metaphorical Basis of Thinking

The notion of the ‘embodied mind’ helps us to think beyond the Cartesian split between mind and body. Lakoff and Johnson, influenced by Merleau-Ponty and Varela, Thompson and Rosch among others, consider that this also accounts for the profoundly metaphorical nature of our thinking. They argue that ‘the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment. The same neural and cognitive mechanisms that allow us to perceive and move around also create our conceptual systems and modes of reason.’ And, ‘Reason is evolutionary, in that abstract reason builds on and makes use of forms of perceptual and motor inference present in “lower” animals.’ (1999: 4). So, to understand reason we need to understand our sensory and motor systems, the human body and its relationships to space, its experiential learning as it moves around its environment. This gives us ways of understanding the categories and concepts that we have and why they are grounded in basic metaphors. They provide many examples which are worth exploring, such as:

Affection is warmth

Subjective judgement: Affection

Sensorimotor domain: Temperature

Example: ‘They greeted me warmly’

Primary experience: Feeling warm while being held affectionately

Difficulties are burdens

Subjective judgement: Difficulty

Sensorimotor domain: Muscular exertion

Example: ‘She is weighed down by responsibilities’

Primary experience: The discomfort or disabling effect of lifting or carrying heavy objects

Control is up

Subjective judgement: Being in control

Sensorimotor domain: Vertical orientation

Example: ‘Don’t worry! I’m on top of the situation’

Primary experience: Finding it easier to control a person of exert force on an object from above where gravity is working with you

Time is motion

Subjective judgement: The passage of time

Sensorimotor domain: Motion

Example: Time flies

Primary experience: Experiencing the passage of time as one moves or observes motion

(1999: 50ff)

Their theory of ‘embodied realism’ is argued in detail and grounded in philosophy and cognitive neuroscience, so it is only possible here to provide the briefest of introductions, but it is worth exploring and provides a good deal of food for thought and offers insights into the metaphorical language of ourselves and our clients.

Exercise: Make a habit of noticing metaphors in everyday language, in therapy sessions and in your reading. Play a ‘spot the metaphor’ game with friends or colleagues.


Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1999) Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.

Further Reading

A shorter and more digestible introduction is:

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

An interesting therapeutic perspective is provided by:

Rowe, N. (2000) ‘Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and dramatherapy’, Dramatherapy, 22(2): 13–17.