The Versatility of Imagery

  • The various goals of imagery work
  • Modifying an image based on a particular therapeutic goal
  • The Tree Image used for the purpose of ego strengthening

One of the most powerful aspects of imagery as a tool in psychotherapy is its versatility. When I suggest an image experience to a client, it is with a particular therapeutic purpose in mind. This goal generally falls into one of three broad categories:

Supportive work: self-soothing, ego-strengthening and harnessing hidden resources. Exploratory and diagnostic work: clarifying problems, issues and internal dynamics. Problem solving work: resolving impasses and internal conflicts.

I may modify an image depending on the needs of the client or the direction of the therapy. The Tree Image illustrates this point well. It can be a powerful tool for ego-strengthening and self-soothing. At the same time, slightly tailored, it can be a potent means for exploration and insight.

The difference is in the language of facilitation. When I facilitate imagery for the purpose of ego-strengthening and self-soothing, I use suggestive language directed toward those goals. On the other hand, if the purpose of the imagery experience is more exploratory, I use less suggestive and more open-ended language.

What follows is a version of the tree image using directive and suggestive language for the purpose of ego strengthening.

Imagine a beautiful and healthy tree. It might be a tree you know or have seen before or it might be a totally imaginary tree. You might even sense the tree rather than see it clearly. Notice the kind of tree, how it looks, the time of year.

Spend some time getting to know the tree, looking at it, touching it, climbing in its branches.

Now if you would like, let yourself become the tree. As the tree, be aware of touching both the earth and the sky. Notice how your body feels as the tree. Take some deep breaths.

Feel your roots and sense how you are anchored to the earth. Feel how wide and deep your roots are. Sense your grounded-ness. Take some deep breathes. Become aware of the richness of the soil, of the availability of water and nutrients. Let yourself absorb all you need through your roots. Take as much time as you need to be with this.

Now focus on your trunk and feel its solidness in your body. Become aware of your bark and how it protects you and provides a sense of comfort and security. Spend some time feeling the strength of your trunk, it’s length and breadth. Sense it in your body.

Now let yourself focus on your branches and your leaves. Be aware of what it’s like to reach out and touch the sky. Let yourself feel connected to the sun. Take some deep breathes. Notice how your body feels. Be aware of any birds, squirrels, other animals and other trees around you. Let yourself feel connected to and feel part of nature. Again notice how your body feels.

Return to any part of this image that you would like to spend some more time with.

Stay as long as you like and when you are ready to leave the image very gradually let yourself return once more to looking at the tree. Let yourself hold on to the feelings and sensations of being the tree. Then slowly bring your attention back to the present and gradually open your eyes.