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by George W. Burns
John Wiley & Sons, 2001
Review by Eduardo Keegan on Jan 28th 2003
W. Burns, an experienced Eriksonian psychotherapist, is indeed a master in the
art of using stories for healing purposes. As Michael Yapko puts it in his foreword
to the book: Burns is a keen observer of people, and his sensitivity and
perceptiveness are immediately evident in the gentle way he talks to us through
the stories he tells.
art of using metaphors is one of those aspects of psychotherapy that cause both
fascination and anxiety among trainees. Experienced and skillful
psychotherapists such as Burns fascinate their audiences with their elegance
and effectiveness at using healing stories. But this also causes anxiety
because trainees may not know how to attain this level of skill. Burns says
this book is a result of a frequent demand of professionals attending his
seminars and lectures, eager to learn the secrets of effective therapeutic
storytelling. Interestingly, Burns does not take the stance of a hermetic Zen
master, but comes up with a generous book revealing all the mysteries, rules
and tricks of professional storytelling.
the book is structured in a way that allows a systematic use of stories, by
providing 101 model stories, explaining how to make them metaphoric and tell
them effectively and, finally, by indicating sources for therapeutic tales.
These goals are reflected in the three parts in which the book is divided.
first part is devoted to metaphor therapy. This section deals with the
theoretical, clinical and practical aspects of stories in psychotherapy.
second part, divided into ten chapters, presents 100 stories. Each chapter
deals with a specific therapeutic outcome (covering the themes suggested by
Burns trainees). Each chapter begins with a description of the therapeutic
outcome and concludes with an exercise relevant to that particular outcome
third and final part offers guidelines and sources for the reader to create
his/her own outcome-oriented stories. These are described in an uncomplicated
manner, addressing issues of technique and of structure.
section on metaphor therapy analyzes the power of stories to discipline, invoke
emotions, inspire, change and create mind/body feats. According to Burns,
metaphors in therapy are designed to be a form of indirect, imaginative, and
implied communication with clients about experiences, processes or outcome that
may help them solve their literal problems. Therapeutic metaphors may include
stories, tales, anecdotes, jokes, proverbs, analogies or other communications.
What distinguishes them from other tales, stories or anecdotes is the
combination of a) their purposefully designed, symbolic communication and b)
their specific healing or therapeutic intention (page 29).
author also highlights the fact that many different psychotherapeutic
traditions have endorsed the use of metaphors in therapy. I remember, for
instance, a recent article by Arthur Freeman about the use of metaphors in
standard cognitive therapy, which presents similar arguments to those offered
by Burns from a very different theoretical background.
ten therapeutic themes covered in the second part of the book are: enhancing
empowerment, acquiring acceptance, reframing negative attitudes, changing
patterns of behavior, learning from experience, attaining goals, cultivating
compassion, developing wisdom, caring for yourself and enhancing happiness.
These topics were, according to the author, suggested by trainees in Eriksonian
psychotherapy. What I like about these topics and the stories, is that they are
relevant for treatments dealing with mental disorders or just personal growth,
however artificial this categorization may be.
must admit that the stories about wise Oriental masters evoke in me John
Lennons acid remarks about the Maharishi rather than New Age feelings of
intellectual depth. But Burns is quite aware of this possibility and suggests
in a passage of the book that Zen masters are probably not good role models for
design of the book is very much in line with its inspiration as a practical
tool for therapists. Topics are easy to find and the whole presentation is very
systematic. Exercises are highlighted by a gray background, and there is a
generous use of blank space that makes the book readable, even if the print is
sum, I would highly recommend the book to psychotherapists of all backgrounds
and levels of training interested in using therapeutic metaphors in a competent
and systematic manner.
© 2003 Eduardo Keegan
Eduardo Keegan, Professor of Clinical
Psychology and Psychotherapies, School of Psychology, University of Buenos
Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina