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Ways to Use Imagery in Your Clinical Practice – Part One

07 Jul

Greetings, everyone.  

As you may know, Health Journeys has hundreds of professional clinicians who sign up to be part of our Professional Program, mostly so they can get discounted materials for the people they work with. They order so much of it, they feel they should get a break on pricing and we totally agree. (Like me when I was in practice, they lend out their stash of recordings and books and don’t always get them back…. Generosity can become an expensive proposition!)

Our practitioners – social workers, psychologists, nurses, docs, clergy, coaches, midwives, acupuncturists, PT’s and OT’s and massage therapists -  often ask us about when and how to integrate guided imagery into their practice.  

It’s a complicated but juicy question.  Let me try to address a piece of this for starters, and if you’re interested, we can do more of this.  (And if you don’t want to wait, there’s a pretty comprehensive chapter of Guided Imagery Wisdom and Tactics in Chapter 10 of Invisible Heroes.)

Let’s start with spontaneous imagery.

Sometimes a therapist will get a client who just naturally generates his or her own imagery in the course of a session, because it’s how they think and process information. This, needless to say, is a bonanza for the work you’re doing, because you’re both being handed priceless, intuitive and metaphoric information to mine.

(By the way, this, obviously, doesn’t happen only in psychotherapy sessions.  It comes up a lot during massage, meditation, energy work and other forms of body work, and the same benefit applies – it’s deeply insightful information for the client, who may or may not choose to share what’s coming up with you, the practitioner.)

I remember a very creative client I had years ago, with a horrific history to heal, who would assess her progress in therapy by conjuring up a house metaphor. She started out seeing herself as a broken down, abandoned house in desperate need of repair and attention – it had an overgrown, weedy yard, and inside was a mess too. There was old wallpaper, half hanging off the walls. The floors were a mess with trash strewn about, and the rooms were cluttered with old, ugly furniture in a chaotic jumble.  

She blew me away with that image when I first heard it, but it became a regular if intermittent part of our work.  Over the months and years that we met, she would periodically check in on her house to see what it looked and felt like.

At first the changes were subtle, but eventually that house cleaned up Real Nice. In fact, it ultimately became beautiful.  It was a marvelous diagnostic indicator of how she was doing, and it never failed to inform us, even when her thinking was muddled – that house never lied!

As it happens, this Friday we will post a marvelous example of this kind of spontaneous imagery as our Inspiring Story provided by Wolf Dearborn. In this case, the imagery proved to be powerfully and immediately transformative in a very straightforward way, producing lasting progress from then on out.  

I know Wolf’s story may sound too good to be true to some of you, but I’m here to say I’ve been witness to similar imagery magic, and it may not be commonplace, but it really does happen.  And when it does, it’s like – well, grace.  

It feels very natural and integrated while it’s happening, but you look back from a different vantage point and say to yourself, “Holy Cow! That was a miracle!”.

But even if the meaning of the imagery remains elusive at the time, you can process it together the way you would a dream, examining questions like What did the experience feel like?; Where in your body did you feel it?; What does it remind you of?  Did you have a sense of what this was about, given what you’re facing these days?.

You may or may not get to the meaning of the images, but the important thing is the conversation, and they’re always valuable, regardless.

Got any comments, questions, similar experiences?  Please post them!  And if there’s interest, we can look at other aspects of using imagery in your practice.

All best,

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