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Part 2: More on Incorporating Guided Imagery into a Therapy Session

28 Jul

Hello again.

Here are some more thoughts about how and when to use guided imagery as part of a therapy session.  

Most of these ideas are in my last book, Invisible Heroes, in Chapter 10 - General Guided Imagery Wisdom and Tactics.  I threw pretty much every clinical tip I could think of into that chapter, in hopes I would have the good sense never to write another book again.  (So far, so good – I’ve done chapters, articles and forwards to other people’s books, and a bunch of new guided imagery audios, but there have been no more 2-year-long book writing opuses for this traveling Grandma…)

These thoughts address some of the questions we get pretty regularly from therapists, counselors, clergy, holistic health practitioners and health care professionals who are interested in using imagery with their people:

Sometimes, if a client is uncomfortable generating or accessing his or her own images, but clearly could use an imagery experience just the same - perhaps they’re anxious or stressed out and need help settling down; or maybe they’re blocked - possibly unclear about what it is they’re feeling and can’t access it some added help… then you might offer some structure to them in the session, providing a platform that allows them to go inward and get informed about what’s happening in there.

Many therapists do this - invite clients to close their eyes and access a deeper part of themselves, using a narrative that takes them into the vast richness of their own imaginal realm.

You could read an already crafted guided imagery exercise designed to do this, from a book (You can find lots of good material – Marty Rossman, Julie Lusk, Andrew Schwartz and all 3 of my books have them, as does Ellen Curran’s book for kids and teens); or you could invent your own narrative, based on what you already know about imagery and that person sitting across from you; or you could split the difference and take a narrative you find, and tailor it to be more in your own style or more personally meaningful to your client. It’s all good.

If he or she is self-conscious about doing this in front of you, as some clients are, you can invite them to turn their chair away, to afford them greater privacy. And you might want to play some soothing music, just to make it more comfortable and immersive.  

The advantage of your doing this yourself (as opposed to using a recording by someone else) is that there’s already an attachment to your voice. So this could make the experience more powerful and trustworthy for them.  And you can be flexible and pivot, changing what you thought you’d be saying to suit the moment and the reaction you’re getting, either amplifying something you said, going deeper into it, or turning away from something that’s throwing a monkey wrench into the self-discovery, and trying something different.
 
And of course, you can make your own recording in the office, of whatever it is you’ve done, and give it to your client to take home, which possibly may be the greatest transitional object ever (for those of you who aren’t familiar with that bit of therapeutic jargon, it’s basically a metaphoric blankie or teddy bear to carry around, which even adults like to have for a sense of safety and control sometimes) – your very own voice to travel with them.  

Now, there’s a caution here, too – your clients could be so attached to you or so sensitive to the feelings of others, that they could be too interested in pleasing you or not hurting your feelings.  In that case, they may not be honest about the value of the experience when it’s not to their liking.  After all, this technique is not for everyone.  So it’s very important to be open to whatever response you get, of course, just as with anything else.

On the other hand, keep in mind that many people who initially resist this process at first can eventually get a lot out of it, so don’t toss it out prematurely, either.

I hope this is useful.  Please feel free to add your own comments, examples, caveats and alternate opinions below!

All best and take care,

 

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award