The Use of Imagination in Psychotherapy

If you're in therapy with me, you'll notice that there's one question I ask fairly regularly: What does that (feeling/energy/situation) look like?

I don't mean it abstractly. I want to know if you can see a picture of your anxiety, your overwhelm, your peaceful focus, your relationship problem as it might be symbolized in a dream or a painting. I want to know, really, what does it look like?

It might seem like a silly or frivolous question at first glance. And it might take some getting used to, to think of your experiences in this way. You might flounder at first, flail around for an appropriate picture. 

But when you're able to drop into your less-linear self -- able to see and then say that your anxiety is blood-red electric currents zapping you from all directions, or your relationship is a dead cedar tree -- you begin to speak the language of the psyche. Comprehension drops from the logical, cerebral, conscious mind down to the body, the soul, and the intuitive wisdom we carry around with us but rarely tap into. Images give us access to the roundabout path of the psyche that linear logic cannot enter. 

Images also allow us to stand across from the problem rather than being immersed in it. When we're a bit apart from it we can see it more clearly, define ourselves in relation to it rather than identifying with it completely, get a clearer understanding of it and ask what it wants and how it could be resolved. Images crack open our thinking about a problem in shorthand, creative, intuitive ways that we can carry with us without thinking too hard.

The image is shorthand for the layers of unfolding complexity that underlie any given conflict or problem. It's not unlike dreamwork in that an image means something important -- and not just in one-to-one correspondence but in a way that graphically illuminates the thing, if we let it. Wisdom language emerges from the ground of the body-soul: it is not crafted by our bright and conscious minds; rather it emerges from the hazy shadows of confusion. It is up to us only to allow our images to arrive -- to, as Rumi advises, "meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in."

From that invitation we get to know the guest, know much more about them, understand how they are like us, enter into relationship with them, maybe even love them. 

Love our problems? Yes, maybe. Maybe even that.

This is not a common way of doing counseling or psychotherapy. It is not a ten-steps-to-happiness style of self-help. It is a profoundly different way of understanding ourselves and the world. It is a daring adventure and a mythic, poetic meditation on existence. It deepens, expands, and enriches. I invite you to try it.

Find out more about psychotherapy with me or contact me to set up a phone screening.