Cognitive complexity and epistemic style: Individual differences in counselors' ability to respond to client metaphors

Cheri Lynn Sparks

Abstract

Previous research on the use of metaphor in psychotherapy has focused on roles played by metaphor, its presence in sessions judged to be "successful," and its utility in promoting memory for significant events and information experienced. The present study investigated cognitive factors, which may affect naïve counselors in their ability to recognize and utilize spontaneously arising client metaphors. Additionally, it investigated the utility of a training intervention to increase the counselors' awareness of, and ability to integrate the client metaphors into their therapeutic responses. Using an analogue approach, participants in both a treatment and control group were asked to respond to client statements and later to provide a free recall of client metaphors. Results did not support the hypothesis that counselors with a metaphoric epistemological perspective would be better at utilizing the client metaphors. Similarly, there was not support for the hypothesis that counselors with a higher level of cognitive complexity would be better at utilizing the client metaphors. However, there was significant support that training resulted in increased utilization of client metaphors. A second question asked whether participants, regardless of use/nonuse of client metaphors, were cognizant of that element of the client communication. Results supported the hypothesis that counselors with a relatively higher level of cognitive complexity were better at recalling the metaphors embedded in the client statements. There was also support for the hypothesis that training in the use of metaphor would increase the ability of participants to recall the client metaphors. Regarding epistemic preference, only those participants with a stronger metaphoric preference and who were in the training group were better at recalling the embedded metaphors.