Imagination in Counseling and Psychotherapy

November 13, 2006

The use of the imagination in the form of guided imagery or creative work, especially art and poetry, has the effect of deepening and accelerating the process of counseling and psychotherapy. By deepening the process I mean that using interaction with imagery in therapy supports the learning and continued use of self-reflection and insight. Using imagery in this context also helps a person to access the unconscious and minimize the limiting effect of the ego defenses to conserve the status quo.
By acceleration of the process I mean that the learning, growing, and/or healing that may need to take place seem to happen more quickly than with a conventional talking therapy. I feel that part of the reason for this is that the content, pace, and style all can largely be determined by the requirements and style of the clients. In this way, the course of the sessions goes along in high accordance with the needs of the client to address, understand, and resolve conflicts and other obstacles to personal growth and healing.
Another important effect of using interaction with imagery in the counseling/therapy process is that the effect of the personality and expectations of the counselor/therapist are minimized as a result of the emphasis on the structure of the imagery process. After the initial period of teaching of the clients in how to use the process, the counselor/therapist acts more as a support to guide the process rather than to direct it and, afterwards, to help contextualize and ground the session, if necessary, into the clients more general experience of their lives.
So in counseling and psychotherapy the imagination can serve to open up the process for some people and help make the experience more closely match their learning/knowing style and, as a result, increase the effectiveness of the procedure.
What reactions do you have to these writings? Please post in the form of comments or questions on any aspect of the content in order to begin a continuing conversation.

9 Responses to “Imagination in Counseling and Psychotherapy”

  1. As someone who’s experienced imagery under your guidance, I agree with your description. It is a very powerful and freeing tool. It can also be somewhat scary, because you don’t know what will come up during a session, but having a trained guide makes the journey safe and rewarding. I’m really glad you introduced me to this and it certainly has helped me.


  2. Thanks for commenting, John. I think the scariest thing a person can do, perhaps, is to face themself in a significant way. The thing about using imagery in the way we did is that what comes up is what you are ready for. So the approach may still be scary but the reward is high and, in general, the majority of anticipatory fear usually subsides after a small amount of experience. Of course, with the knowledge that some significant experience is likely to happen in any given imagery journey, some anticipation is to be expected.


  3. Pat McCann Says:

    I would like to add that last night whilest I walked the streets of Boston, I witnessed certain faces people made in their separate direction. Based on some unique faces I saw, I could attach a lifestory that literally took the form of a parade. They blared minor and major tones while symbolic events they’d forgotten took a personfied form of human legs. All the while rolling in a tumbling wave fashion behind each and every person. Almost U-haul overstuffed with Mardi Gras. Is it possible that, through such interpersonal imagination and realm among our fellow kind, we can find a form of healing? Or would it be far too bold to use the imagination in such an assuming means? How could we ever truly see the lifestory in physical form? I wonder….


  4. Poetry! Hello, Pat, thanks for posting. Your post is a demonstration of imagination. Anything is possible in the domain of the imagination, even healing. For example, prayer can be seen as a form of imaginative activity- not at all that it is insubstantial, but that it’s main function is through the faculty of the imagination rather than reason.
    The hard part of the use of the imagination that involves others is knowing the difference between one’s own thoughts, feelings, desires, expectations, etc., and others’- not always so easy.


  5. Christa Says:

    The approach is scary until you realize that there is nothing in your head that you can’t handle. The part I found challenging is navigating so much that there is in your subconscious / unconscious? I have found the effects powerful and lasting.
    Best…nice blog Bob.


  6. Hi Christa, thanks for commenting. Yes, the richness of our unconscious can be overwhelming. For most of us, what comes up is regulated, to a degree, by our psychic defenses. Like with dreaming, what comes up at what point is rarely something that we can’t handle. We may not know how to understand it, or what to do with it, or may not want to deal with it, but if it shows up it is something we are ready for, in a way.
    An important distinction to be made here is readiness from the point of view of the conscious mind versus the unconscious. The conscious mind will tend to defend the self and it’s familiar self concepts. The unconscious does not obey those limitations and so allows for more opportunities for growth.


  7. georgia Says:

    I hope this blog continues. I have been searching for people who use the world of symbols and imagery to create a playground of change possibilities. As an intern of counseling psychology with a background in the arts, I can’t imagine avoiding the imagination as a driving force. If a client is going through that extraordinary process of inventing words to create metaphors to experience, their imagination is already an active one.


    • Bob Says:

      Thanks for your comment, Georgia. I have no plans to discontinue this blog but I haven’t been very active recently in posting to it, either. The imagination is clearly a way of knowing separate from the intellect. I have found it to be a very powerful tool in my counseling practice. In fact, I specialize in using the imagination in sessions- through either Interactive Guided Imagery, art-making, writing, or any modality the client prefers. Reason can’t supply all the tools to address the human condition. “The Heart as it’s reasons that the Reason shall never understand”, Pascal.


  8. […] Links: Role of Imagination, Imagination in Counseling and Psychotherapy, Visualization vs […]


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