Coaching Model META: Metaphors Elicit The Answers


A Coaching Model By Morwenna Stewart, Neurodiversity and Writing Coach, UNITED KINGDOM

[People are…] creative, resourceful and whole. Carl Rogers

META: Metaphors Elicit The Answers

For many neurodivergent (ND) or neurotypical (NT) clients, metaphor can be a safe but powerful way to explore challenging topics and uncover internal realities. That leads clients to realizations that create dynamic shifts and next steps.

Metaphors, Stories, and Lies

We human beings are excellent at self-deception; at hiding from what’s really going on in our lives. It seems ironic that metaphor could help people to access what’s hidden, given that metaphor isn’t real. However, evidence shows that metaphor in coaching is effective.

Clean Coaching and Systemic Modeling

Clean coaching: Psychologist David Grove found a way to access the client’s world through ‘Clean Coaching’. Grove created ‘clean’ questions that explore the client’s language and reality without interpretation.[1]

Systemic modeling: Others, such as Dr Caitlin Walker, further developed Grove’s ideas. Walker devised Systemic Modelling™, which uses clean questions to explore the client’s metaphors. Walker draws from NLP’s central tenet that “the map is not the territory”. This means that one person’s worldview is a representation rather than an absolute truth.[2]

Metaphor as Safety

I believe it was Michael Bungay Stanier who described coaching as being about “the thing behind the thing”. We might, therefore, see coaches as detectives helping the client to decode what’s going on. For neurodivergent clients who experience greater trauma, metaphor can create a safe and creative way to access their world on their terms.

Neurodivergent people – especially late-diagnosed – have worse outcomes in all areas of life. For example, autistic children are four times more likely to be excluded from school[3] and have higher unemployment and underemployment.[4] ND people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.[5]We know this as the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’.Dr Russell Barkley (ADHD specialist) posits that ADHDers experience tens of thousands more negative comments in their childhood years alone.[6] The ultimate result of being misunderstood and excluded is that ND people have worse mortality – dying decades earlier than NT peers.[7]

META Model

The META model is one specialist model that helps ND people (particularly late-diagnosed) explore their identity and struggles, and find their best life. It helps ND people to thrive and be their best innovative selves, which has myriad benefits to them and to society.


Metacognition (literally ‘ thinking about thinking’) is embedded in the META model as it helps clients to examine their unique thinking, behavior, and actions. From that point, clients come to understand themselves better. They can then design a life to meet their unique needs in all domains – such as physical, sensory, emotional, financial, friendships, relationships, and environmental.

Anonymised Case Studies

The META model helps ND and NT clients alike. Below are two anonymized/adapted examples of the model. I have changed details, so clients’ stories are unrecognisable:

  • Neurotypical client
    A client is scared to start a required writing project. In coaching, they describe themselves as acting like an ostrich with its head in the sand. We explore this metaphor further, delving into areas such as what the ostrich likes and dislikes; what it is afraid of; how putting its head in the sand is helpful/unhelpful; what is around the ostrich to help/hinders them, and so on.
    This unique approach helps the client to explore a scary subject in a new way. By putting their experience at arm’s length’ through metaphor, they feel able to see issues, barriers, and solutions more easily. The client learns how to nurture the fearful ostrich, as they come to understand why it acts as it does.
  • Neurodivergent client
    Client is overwhelmed by the demands placed on them, as an ADHD single parent to several children and a high-stress job. Two metaphors emerge of them ‘at their worst’ and ‘at their best’. ‘At their worst’, they are like the cartoon character Tasmanian Devil™ – whirling in circles and causing chaos in their wake. ‘At their best’, they are like the cartoon character Roadrunner – moving just as fast, but in one direction towards distinct goals and outsmarting Wile E. Coyote™. We explore what factors cause them to have a Tasmanian Devil or a Wile E. Coyote day – what environmental factors, routines, and so on.
    Having a metaphor for their best day creates an ‘anchor’(a bit like a shortcut or a trigger) for the client to remember what helps to create their best day. They use this metaphor each day to remind themselves what helps and to take the steps to achieve those best-day conditions more often.

Caveat: Of course, metaphor does not work for all clients. For example, some clients conceptualize the world in concrete rather than abstract ways. Some ND people have aphantasia – a characteristic where they have no internal visual imagination. It mystifies some clients that a metaphor might represent something else in their life. In that case, we use other models and techniques and do not stigmatize the client further by insisting that they follow the META method. As always, we are client-led. We know that metaphor is not useful for everyone.

META a Powerful Approach

META can be a powerful approach for often-traumatized neurodivergent clients to explore their world with greater safety. It may not be suitable for clients who perceive the world in concrete ways. For the many ND people who are highly creative and imaginative, it can let them explore complex topics in ways that maximize their greatest strengths. This can increase self-esteem and self-awareness, with realizations about those powerful creative strengths. As clients become accustomed to metacognition and introspective, they gain greater pride, authenticity, and success.

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