Skip to main content

Rucksacks: Therapy Metaphor

It seems that we all carry our own rucksacks on life’s journey. In our rucksack we carry our life’s experiences and expectations, and these influence the way we are, what we do, and what we make of our life and how we go about it.

Our rucksack – and what we carry in it - affects the way we think, feel and act:  towards ourselves, towards others, and towards life in general.


If we think about our problems as “rucksacks”, we can take the problem/s outside of us, which makes it easier to change things in a positive way. Before we can make those helpful changes, we need to understand more about our personal rucksack, and how it affects us.

Understanding Our Rucksack

  • What’s in your rucksack that’s affecting your ability to cope with daily life?
  • Past experiences – memories, thoughts, images, ruminating about the past.
  • Current concerns – life circumstances, worries.
  • What’s keeping your problems going now?
  • Future – anxiety about what might happen and your ability to cope.
  • Your core beliefs about yourself, others and the world as a result of past experiences, current circumstances and anxiety about the future.

Picture It

If you could picture your rucksack, how big would it be?

Imagine the rucksack, in  your mind's eye right now, and notice what it might look like.

  • What colour is it?
  • How heavy is it?
  • How do you carry it?
  • Using one strap over one shoulder, 2 straps, strap around the abdomen, wheels, handle
  • How is it fastened? How tightly? How secure is it? Does it have a zip, velcro, buttons, straps, padlock etc?
  • What would cause it to come undone and open up? What would happen to you then?
  • What would that look like? What would others see (about you) when that happens?
  • Are there pockets on the outside that you keep things in? What’s in there? Is there anything else attached to it?

Consider drawing the rucksack.


What does it feel like when you’re carrying the rucksack?

  • What do you feel in your body?
  • What goes through your mind?
  • What does it mean or say about you (that you’re carrying this rucksack)?

How does carrying the rucksack affect you? (in different situations, generally).



  • What goes through your mind?
  • What images or memories come up?
  • What thoughts keep coming up?
  • What does that say about you, or mean?


What emotions do you often experience?

  • Depression, Anxiety, Anger etc.

Physical sensations:  What do you often feel in your body? E.g. 

  • Tiredness, headache, heart racing or pounding, breathing changes, shaking, dizzy, light-headed, tense muscles, hot, sweaty, can’t concentrate, poor memory, restless etc.


  • What do you do that helps you cope or feel better?
  • What do you do that keeps your problem going?
  • What do you do that makes you feel bad?

What do other people see (when you’re carrying your rucksack)?

  • What would they notice about you?
  • What might they see you doing?
  • What would they think that you were feeling or thinking?
  • What would make them think that about you?

Is there only one rucksack or do you have different ones? What do they look like (etc)? When do you use them? What’s in them…..etc?

What else is there about the rucksack, or about you when you’re carrying the rucksack?


Are there times when you don’t carry the rucksack, or when it feels lighter, or is different in any way?

  • Are there times when it feels bigger, heavier etc?
  • Are there times when you carry or fasten it differently?
  • Are there times when you take it off, even if only for a short time?
  • At these times, how are things different?

Coping Strategies

  • Are there things in your rucksack that help you cope with your difficulties? What are they?
  • What is it about your rucksack that keeps you going or stops you getting worse?
  • Are these coping strategies helping you in the long term?
  • What would be the first thing you would change about the way you cope?
  • What would you do more of or start doing?
  • What would you do less of or stop doing?


  • What goes through your mind at those times?
  • What thoughts come up?
  • Do you notice any images or memories?


  • What do you feel emotionally at those times?
  • Physical Sensations:  What do you feel in your body? Where do you feel it?


  • What do you do differently at those times?
  • What would other people see you doing?
  • Can you think of a time when you felt much better?
  •  What happened to your rucksack at that time?

Changing The Rucksack

  • Could you carry a different rucksack, or could you make changes to the one you have?
  • What would your new rucksack be like? What colour would you like it to be? How big would it be? How does it fasten? How do you wear it? How heavy would it be? What would be in it? What would you carry?
  • What would be most helpful for you to carry with you?
  • How would you feel different if you were able to take off the rucksack?
  • Would you start by lightening the rucksack in some way? How?
  • If you took the rucksack off, what would be the first thing you’d notice? And then what?
  • What would others notice if you weren’t wearing your rucksack?
  • What would need to happen before you could take the rucksack off or lighten the load?

Discarding the Rucksack

  • When could you start taking it off? Where could you leave it? How long for?
  • Can you imagine taking and leaving the rucksack off for a period of time?
  • Can you imagine discarding the rucksack completely and not needing it any more?  
  • How would things be different if you didn’t have your rucksack?
  • What thoughts would go through your mind at that time?
  • What would that feel like? (emotionally and in your body)
  • What would it look like? What would you do differently?

The Miracle...

  • Can you imagine waking up one morning and finding that your rucksack had gone, and no longer having to lug it around with you.
  • What would be the first thing you would notice that was different?
  • What would be the next thing?
  • What else?
  • What would others notice about you?
  • What would be the first thing they’d notice or  comment on?
  • What then?

Moving On & Doing Differently

Now that we know more about your rucksack, and how you’d like things to be when you discard your rucksack, make an action plan to start bringing these things about:

  • What do I need to stop doing?
  •  What do I need to do less of?
  •  What do I need to start doing?
  •  What do I need to do more of?

Thinking differently

  • Notice and remind myself about the rucksack and how it affects the way I think, feel and act, and how it’s keeping me feeling bad.
  • Remember the new rucksack or being without the rucksack, and how I would think and feel differently.
  • Remind myself what I would be doing differently without a rucksack, or with a new rucksack.
  • Imagine myself (at least x 3 daily) without the rucksack, doing, thinking and feeling differently.
  • Tell myself I have discarded the rucksack, and I can be the new me.


Useful Links

Rucksacks - this page as PDF

Cycling Metaphor

Self Help

Therapy Metaphors


This website uses cookies to enhance your browsing experience. Privacy statement.

Back to top