Balloon metaphors haves been used in books, films, songs and of course hypnotherapy for probably as long as balloons have existed. Which is actually a very long time as balloons date back to medieval times (inflated pig’s bladders). Apparently, the Aztecs made balloon sculptures with cat’s intestine. The modern, and less gruesome, balloon dates back to 1824 when Michael Faraday (better known for cages) developed it for experiments with gases, and it was quickly popularised as a toy.
Balloon metaphors – examples
Balloons are a universal experience in the western world which makes them an excellent tool. Today, balloons have become a metaphor for the innocence of childhood and the lightness and impermanence of things. There are a number of uses a hypnotherapist can put them to;
- Balloon as stress build up – A good metaphor to explain to a child how pressure can build up within them from emotions and stress. Tell them that emotions and stress build up like air in a balloon, a little can be good but too much can result in popping (tantrum, panic attack). What then follows is an explanation about how talking about problems, assertively expressing, asking for help, etc (insert appropriate resource) is like having a hold of the balloons opening and releasing a little air. This can be accompanied with fun noises to emphasis the air coming out if it’s likely to raise a giggle.
- The released balloon – When working with people who feel stuck in some way I have used the image of a balloon trapped in the branches of a tree. I will explain that the balloon appears to be in a precarious position, and yet it has been stuck in this way for some time and it has neither burst nor deflated. Rather, it is waiting for a change in the breeze when it will dislodge and fly free. As an alternative you can have the patient become an active participant by releasing the balloon.
- Balloon as a signifier of youth – I have used them in inner child work. In one case the patient found the inner child was trapped in a hedge maze. I asked them to look for the balloon that the child was holding which floated above the tops of the hedges to help find the them.
Balloon metaphor for clearing the mind
Probably the most common use of the balloon metaphor is a as a visualisation for letting go of thoughts and emotions. This makes a great self-hypnosis exercise or recording. I use this with patients who have difficulty getting to sleep, have busy minds or just have a lot of emotional material floating about. Here is my version of this classic approach.
Induce trance and deepen
- Take the patient walk along a path to a place looking out on the sea. Tell them it is a warm day and the sun is in the clear blue sky.
- Ask them to sit down looking out on the sea.
- Describe the scene using all their senses. Tell them a light breeze is blowing over their shoulder and out to sea.
- Tell them that they have in front of them a small pile of parcel tags and a pen.
- Invite them to write on one of the tags a thought, feeling or memory that they don’t need right now.
- Tell them that in their other hand they notice they are holding the string of a helium balloon, its cord wrapped around their hand. Invite them to see its colour, to see it bobbing gently around in the breeze, perhaps feeling the tiny tug of its string.
- Guide them to attach the tag to the balloon, and with a blow or gentle tap to launch it seaward, where the breeze will take it out to sea.
- Invite them to watch it floating and drifting out to sea. To see it get gradually smaller, duller and more distant as it does so.
- Tell them that eventually it will disappear over the horizon. (If appropriate add) that any important thoughts required for work / life / safety etc will be brought back when appropriate (morning, tomorrow etc) when the wind changes direction.
- Repeat steps 5-9 as appropriate, or invite them to do it for themselves. Tell them that each time a balloon disappears over the horizon they notice that the sun has dipped a little in the sky. Tell them that the sun will only set when all the balloons they need to let go of have crossed the horizon. Suggestions can be made directly for sleep.