The Game of Snakes and Ladders Metaphor

By Robin Hook

As hypnotherapists we have an understanding of the way the imagination can be used in hypnosis to change a particular mind-set. We can also appreciate that, when in hypnosis, the use of a metaphor, short story or meaningful tale can lead to a profound shift in the client’s attitude and in their appreciation they can have whatever changes they desire.

I have suggested that the following metaphor is called an adjustable metaphor because the components within it can by used by the client, or therapist, to represent different things. It may be that the therapist will need to suggest to the client what the components represent if there has been an agreed goal to the therapy in the initial discussion eg. increased confidence, reduction of feeling stress, appreciation of others etc. It may be that the client will recognise the components and what they can represent without suggestion from the therapist. Snakes have a poor reputation for representing anything good so it is likely their use will represent a negative feeling, painful emotion or unpleasant event.

Who has not played the game of Snakes and Ladders? It will be very rare to find anyone who has not played the game either when they were a child or when they became an adult and needed to entertain a child. Everyone knows the game. The rules are simple – move the counter the number shown by a throw of the dice and go up ladders or down the snakes. The equipment is simple: the board, a dice and a counter.

It may be that the conversation, in hypnosis, would go something like this:-

“I would like you to imagine that on the floor in front of you is a Snakes and Ladders board, perhaps a little larger than normal. We could now imagine that this board represents you life.”

Assuming the client (like everyone) has had a number of difficulties in their life up to the present time:

“You can notice that on this board there is a lot of slippery snakes. You know the rules of the game. Up the ladders and down the snakes. What do you think the snakes represent? You also know that every time in your life you have landed on a snake’s mouth you have suffered a set back / a hurt / an upset. These snakes may represent the people in your life who have held you back / stolen your confidence / caused used stress / hurt you. What would you feel if you landed on a snake on the board?”

“You will also notice there are ladders on your board. Do you see very many ladders? What do you think the ladders could represent?

(This could represent opportunities taken or even opportunities missed in a career or in relationships.)

“Let me tell you something that you may have overlooked. Notice where you are on the board – (This could be at the number that is their age). You will notice that you have passed through all the slippery snakes and all the missed ladders, and yet you have still survived and playing the game. Doesn’t this show how really strong you are? Doesn’t this show to you that you have been looked after throughout the game? Doesn’t this show you that you are meant to finish this game – to get to 100? No matter how long it takes. No matter how many snakes and ladders you go down and up.”

“Do you think that if I could take away all the snakes that are ahead of you, and just leave all the ladders, that life would be as exciting / enjoyable / fulfilling / rewarding? (So far I have always found the answer coming back is no).

“No-one in the world has a life without snakes on their board. But everyone has some ladders. You need to / have to / will be brave / strong / confident to keep rolling your dice every day. Are you willing to carry on rolling your dice? Accepting whatever numbers that comes up? Moving yourself always forward? Are you ready to move on?

(Suggest the client now punches the air and says YES with a passion.)

“Life is about rolling your dice every day isn’t it? Taking whatever comes. But you have the benefit of knowing that you can handle anything that comes your way. You know about all the snakes you have already overcome. They are all behind you. And because of those experiences you know you can deal with any snakes in the future. You also know there will be ladders. Your unconscious mind will recognise these ladders and help you progress by taking your opportunities.”

“You can notice that from now, any snakes ahead of you on your board are only short. They will not hold you back. You have the power and strength to overcome any set back”.

We know that on leaving us, our clients cannot have a life of ladders only. To suggest otherwise would be foolhardy, and a lie. To suggest so in hypnosis would be to destroy the beneficial effect of the hypnosis immediately a life problem showed it’s face, and forked tongue. What we do is equip the client with the tools to overcome problems when they arise, as surely they will for everyone. If you have the opportunity to use this metaphor. any suggestions for improving the words will always be gratefully accepted.


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