Use of Metaphors in Motivational Interviewing Sessions in the Probation Service


  • Harri Sarpavaara University of Tampere



metaphors, client-counsellor interaction, motivational interviewing, change talk, probation service, substance abusers


This paper examines the use of metaphors in client-counsellor interaction in Motivational Interviewing counselling sessions in the context of probation service. Clients who participated in these counselling sessions and in this study had either an alcohol or drug abuse problem. My aim is to show how the interaction between the client and counsellor is shaped by reciprocal use of metaphors, and how the client’s change talk finds expression in metaphorical utterances. In these counselling sessions, the use of metaphors appeared in five types of interactions: 1) participants work with and develop together shared metaphors, 2) the client accepts the counsellor’s metaphorical description but does not use it him or herself, 3) either the client or the counsellor suggests an alternative metaphor, 4) the counsellor systematically ignores the client’s metaphor, and 5) the counsellor does not understand the meaning of the client’s metaphor. The analysis suggests that metaphorical utterances play a major part in the interaction between the client and the counsellor and in the client’s change talk. These findings support the notion that metaphor and the change are closely linked, and a metaphor may act as a vehicle of change.

Author Biography

Harri Sarpavaara, University of Tampere

Harri Sarpavaara received his Ph.D in social psychology from the University of Tampere and is currently postdoctoral fellow in the University of Tampere. He is working on the research project ‘Process and outcome of initial motivational interviews with substance abusers’ in which he uses semiotics to analyse client-counsellor interaction sessions in the context of the probation service.



How to Cite

Sarpavaara, H. (2011). Use of Metaphors in Motivational Interviewing Sessions in the Probation Service. Communication and Medicine, 7(2), 177–186.