Lego as a metaphor

I recently found myself sitting across from a grown man, a notably manly man, who was weeping. At the end of the session he told me how good he felt. Not an unusual situation for a therapist I admit, but this was a little different because I’d done something which I normally wouldn’t.

You are probably familiar with Lego, the small colourful plastic interlocking construction toy loved by children of all ages and vilified by bare foot parents. Lego has been especially big in the public consciousness of late because of several smash hit movies (Lego Batman, Ninjago, and of course The Lego movies 1 and 2). Within the developed world Lego is a ubiquitous experience. There are an average 62 Lego bricks for every person on the planet and kids are spending an annual 5 billion hours playing with Lego each year.

I have always employed Lego in work with younger children. Sometimes I’ve used it as a distraction, something to do whilst we talk. Something to prevent the child from shutting down under the adult gaze. In particular boys tend to conduct social interactions around play rather than directly.

Other times I’ve used Lego as a metaphor both in and out of trance. Lego is by its nature versatile and thus can be used to transmit concepts of change; impermanence, development, deconstruction and reconstruction. Lego can also be used as a way into dissociation work, such as chair work or mask therapy.

I’ve restricted the use of Lego as a metaphor to children and adults who have expressed an engagement with it. However, nearly everyone played with Lego as a kid(1). This was the thinking which led me to use Lego as a metaphor with an adult male patient, who had never mentioned Lego.  His relationship had recently broken down after a long tempestuous period and he was coming to me to help come to terms with this fact, so I was treating it as grief.  Here’s roughly how it went.

Lego as a metaphor – in practice (example)

·         Induce trance

·        Go to favourite / safe place

·         Introduce the concept of a table, however unusual this is. Tell them that on the table they will find Lego pieces. Explain that these are the pieces of their past life, a life that has collapsed and lays in pieces before them.

·         As they approach the table you may enhance the experience with the use of the sensory experience of Lego; colour, texture, the sound it makes as someone rummages through it and so forth. Some people say that it has a plastic scent which they may be able to access.

·         You may invite them to attempt to rebuild their old life. In the case of grief the  mind is often attempting to reconstruct their old life but cannot do so, which causes great stress. Remind them that this is will not work as some pieces of the old life are gone.

·         Tell them they have not got all the pieces of the old life. They do however have thousands of pieces.

·         Tell them that they can build almost anything from the pieces they have. The only thing they cannot build is what they had before. One day they will build something new.

With my patient/client I choose to suggest that he will build something new in the future and that for today he should organise the Lego by colour so that it is ready when he is. This was because the grief was in its very early stages and the aim of the session was to lift him out of hopelessness and not to interrupt the natural process of grief. If used at later stages, it could be taken further.

1.Did I mention that there are over 400 Billion Lego bricks in the world and more Lego figures than people in China)

Lego as a metaphor – the author

The author – Matt Krouwel is a hypnotherapist and post graduate researcher into hypnotherapy for IBS at the University of Birmingham (UK)