What is Imagery?

A mental image is an internal representation. While it frequently reflects an accurate memory of external reality, it is always a mirror of internal reality. Imagery often is visual, but may involve other senses, and may be experienced together with emotions and body sensations. It is through imagery that the infant learns to retain a sense of its mother’s existence when she is physically absent. The power of imagery in psychotherapy resides in its close connection with memory, affect, and body sensations and experiences.

Western society strongly values that part of our mental functioning which seeks to know by reason, logic and analysis. Imagistic thinking constitutes another mode of mental activity which runs counterpoint to that process — and probably is centered in a different part of the brain. Free of the constraints of linear logic, imagistic thinking facilitates perception in terms of wholes or gestalts. A single image can crystallize the essence of a complex problem (and sometimes even its solution) without analyzing it. Imagery can be literal, but tends to be symbolic and metaphorical in nature. It can be quite fanciful and playful.

Because imagery is less censored than secondary-process thinking, and because it is closely linked neurophysiologically to affect, memory, and body experiences, it often provides remarkable access to unconscious material.