Transformational Imagery 6/6: Helping Every Client Access Their Imagination

[Note: this blog was first published by PESI.UK.]

How can we introduce image work with clients who feel out of touch with their imagination, or perhaps even doubt they have one? In the final part of her inspiring series, psychotherapist, author and transformational imagery pioneer Dr. Dina Glouberman explains how she normalises imagery, notices blocks, and invites clients to tap into this powerful catalyst for transformation that was there all along.

When a client walks into your consulting room for the first time, they come with all their potential for transformation, plus all their potential for resistance to transformation. But what they may not have thought about is how you will ambush them from an unexpected direction so that the transformation comes before they know it. This unexpected direction can come from the world of the imagination.

Is everyone in touch with their imagination? Perhaps not consciously. Yet imagination is part and parcel of everyone’s everyday life. I started my first book, Life Choices, Life Changes, by saying that whatever you create in your life, whether an omelette or a multinational corporation, begins as an image in your mind. Our thoughts, feelings, behaviour, attitudes, and wellbeing are all grounded in our imagination, in deeply held pictures of ourselves and of life, often originating very early in our childhood. These guide our lives often without our knowing it.

So my assumption when someone walks into the consulting room is that working with the imagination is not introducing the imagination into their life. It is already there. It is already at the heart of everything they think, feel, do and say, and it serves as a template for the patterns they live by, not just in their minds, but also in their bodies, their emotions, their values.

And this assumption I am making is quite magical, because I don’t have to make a big deal of working with imagery. Their imagination is not miles away on some distant planet. It is right here and now. We just have to acknowledge it and tap into it.

Introducing image work when it feels unfamiliar

If I am facilitating a group of people not experienced with imagery, I will go to some trouble to explain why we use imagery, and to show them that they can all do it and not make fools of themselves, which is often the thing that is blocking them. I demonstrate the variety of senses they can use with the simple example of a peach that everyone is imaging differently. I also make clear that if they get stuck I will help them. In a sense, I normalise imagery, as just another way of thinking about things through direct experience, and reassure people that it is available to them just as easily as words are.

Working with one client at a time, I can more easily find out what is blocking them, if anything is, and help them through it. Sometimes I will do a quick relaxation and then introduce an imagery exercise, perhaps a metaphor for their lives, or a future visioning, or a conversation with an inner child. I will do this particularly when I feel that the words are not going deep enough, and we need a catalyst for transformation. Any of the imagery exercises will open up a dimension that was simply not tapped with words – both a new way to understand what is happening, and a powerful way to work through it so that there is a real shift.

Clients usually go along with it because they have found that it works, or because, perhaps, of the confidence with which I invite them into the world of the imagination as if it were their second home. And of course, I believe it is.

Listening out for clients’ own images

But sometimes I just go with some expression the person has already used, because more often than not, it will contain an image. The other day, a client who refused to budge from her position that nothing was worth doing, said “I feel as if I’m behind five walls and I can’t get through.” To her, that was a statement of fact that proved she was unable to go forward.

But to me, that was an image. And I can work with images.

In fact, I have an exercise I call ‘Walking through Walls’ in which you imagine something in your life that is like a wall, literally experience the wall, pushing your nose up against the brick or the stone, and then walk through it to the other side.

This time, the wall was already there, and indeed, my client had five. And so it was easy to say to her, “can you stand up? Now can you walk through those walls: one, two, three, four, five”. At first she sobbed and refused to do it, but eventually I persuaded her. She started walking through the imagined walls. One, two, three, four, five. And then I asked her to do it again. One, two, three, four, five.

And by the time she’d done it twice, she said simply “I feel a lot better” and she cracked a joke, always the sign that she has come through one of these difficult feeling experiences. She was ready to move on.

The background to imaging, the methods of introducing imagery to groups, the principles of moving between conversation and imagination in individual sessions, and the scripts for various exercises mentioned here are available in Dr. Dina Glouberman’s new book, ImageWork: The Complete Guide to Working with Transformational Imagery (PCCS Books, 2022).