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Use of a Fictional Character as Part of Therapy

How the subconscious can be prompted to create therapeutic metaphors.

Key points

  • Exploration of our subconscious can help improve our psychological health.
  • A patient's creativity can be engaged by suggesting that they imagine a fictional character.
  • Psychological conflict can be resolved through work with metaphors.

As part of therapy, to facilitate better self-understanding, I teach patients how to access their subconscious. Improved self-understanding helps empower patients including through allowing them to choose therapeutic avenues and define their own solutions to their psychological issues. The subconscious can be accessed in different ways including through muscle strength testing, talking, typing, and imagining talking with an inner advisor.

Source: Marita/Pixabay

A patient’s creativity can be engaged in the process of accessing subconscious material, by suggesting that they imagine a fictional character while doing hypnosis and inviting the patient to imagine an adventure with the character.

This method allows the subconscious to present therapeutic metaphors as part of the resultant experience. This process may be analogous to the subconscious use of metaphors during dreaming.

Exploration of our subconscious metaphors can help improve our psychological health, whether we become aware of these metaphors in dreams, through accessing our subconscious in hypnosis, or through other means, such as when we note the metaphors we use to describe day-to-day events.

For example, in describing a hurricane we might talk about it as a monster storm, or when we describe a humiliating experience, we might state that we were treated as if we were tiny as an ant.

A discussion about the meaning of a metaphor can allow us to resolve psychological conflict. For example, a monster storm metaphor may be alluding to irrational fears we may have had in childhood. By identifying these fears we can then address them, including thinking of adult ways of preparing for a major storm.

A Fictional Character Approach to Generating Therapeutic Metaphors

An example of the fictional character approach involved Paul, an 18-year-old patient with anxiety and asthma related to his severe allergy to milk products.

As I was seeing him in my role as his pulmonologist at the time we worked together, sometimes I had occasion to perform his physical examinations. During a couple of those times, Paul pointed out that his right ear was surgically reconstructed because of a birth defect. The surgery occurred when he was 14 years old. He told me that he disliked when people questioned him about it.

I suggested the idea of picking a fictional character to Paul, as a way of allowing his subconscious to give him some helpful ideas. He happily chose to imagine Captain Hook. I asked why Paul would want to interact with a very unpleasant fellow such as Hook, and Paul replied that he did not mind.

Paul had already learned to use hypnosis to calm himself by imagining going to his safe place, which was in a boat on a lake. Therefore, from his “lake” in his hypnotic state, I asked Paul to visualize a curtain.

I suggested that Paul go through the curtain and find himself on an island. At my request, he described what he saw on the island. He then stated that he could see a young boy dressed in green coming towards him. I asked Paul to describe this boy in more detail. He said that the boy was Peter Pan. He described his green felt cap with a feather in it, down to his green shoes, and the small number of freckles on his face.

Paul stated that he was 13 years old just like Peter Pan. Paul said that Peter Pan wanted to teach him to jump into the air 10 feet at a time. Paul tried that and said it was fun. Then, Paul said that Peter taught him how to float.

Paul stated, “I’m floating, I’m floating, I’m floating,” very enthusiastically. He then said dejectedly, “Oh, I came down, I lost my concentration.”

I suggested to Paul that he could do it again.

A few moments later Paul reported, “I’m floating, I’m floating, this is so much fun, this is so cool.”

I suggested that Paul come down.

“I don’t want to. This is too much fun,” he retorted.

I remained silent for a few moments, and finally, he said, “Okay, I’m down.”

I suggested Paul and Peter sit on a rock, and then asked Paul again if he still wants to meet Captain Hook.


I said, “Okay, please go around the mountain in front of you, and there you will be able to find Captain Hook’s ship.

Paul described Captain Hook as coming towards him and Peter in a rowboat. He said, “Captain Hook says that we need to get off the island.”

“How will you respond?” I asked.

“We told him, ‘No.’”

Paul reported that Captain Hook said, “If you were adults, I would kill you.”

Paul said he asked Captain Hook why he was so mean.

Paul said that Captain Hook replied, “I am not so mean, this is my natural demeanor.” (Paul stressed the middle syllable of “demeanor” as he related the events.)

Paul said, “Why is your natural demeanor so mean?”

“Because when I was growing up my friends picked on me because of my hook, just like they must pick on you because of your ear.”

Paul said, “People who picked on me because of my ear were not my friends. I found new friends. I am bigger than people who pick on me.”

“That’s my problem, I never found any other friends.”

“Well, Peter and I could be your friends,” suggested Paul.

“That would make me very happy. Thank you for being my friends.”

Then, Paul reported that Hook turned into a young boy and that Peter, Paul, and Hook all played together in the woods.


In this session with Captain Hook, Paul apparently was able to express and perhaps resolve some of his misgivings relating to his ear defect and or its reconstruction. His choice to imagine Captain Hook as the fictional character in this experience likely was not coincidental, as Captain Hook also had a physical abnormality.

In Paul’s imagined interaction, Captain Hook explained how his hook was a metaphor for Paul’s ear and used that metaphor to suggest how Paul might have felt about some of his social interactions during childhood. The resolution of Captain Hook’s problem when Paul offered to befriend him may have been Paul’s way of demonstrating to himself that he accepts himself as he is.

Further therapy following the session with Paul could have involved discussions about why he had imagined being five years younger, the significance of the floating experience, and why Captain Hook turned into a young boy.

In contrast to how Paul appeared to use metaphors to resolve his own issues during the experience with a fictional character, often metaphors presented by the subconscious are not easily interpretable and require a lot of discussion during therapy.

Copyright Ran D. Anbar


More stories about Paul and his use of hypnosis to help himself are available in the 2021 book "Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center," by Ran D. Anbar. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.