An Adventure Begins with an Inquisitive Young Woman
Jane (not her real name) came to visit me in the counseling center of a medium sized midwestern college. Jane knew I did guided imagery work and wanted to experience it. She was a 27-year-old college employee with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from a nationally known liberal arts college in the region. She had studied the work of Rudolf Steiner with one of her professors and this stimulated her spiritual curiosity. We made an appointment for a demonstration session.
When Lovely Meadows Turn into Junk Yards
For the session I began by using a guided imagery in the setting of a peaceful and beautiful meadow of flowers, and planned to walk her through the meadow and up the proverbial mountain. Following a brief relaxation, I began to lead Jane through the image when she asked, “But how about the junk yard?”
“What junk yard?” I asked”
“The one behind us,” she replied.”
I stated, “It sounds like you need to go to the junk yard.”
I turned the imagery over to Jane and asked her to describe the scene. It was a typical junk yard with a metal fence and a padlocked gate. A menacing dog was barking at us. I asked her how we would get in. I use “we” since it is my practice to join the image as a participant as well as a guide.) As we decided what to do, an old watchman emerged, restrained the dog, and unlocked the gate.
Old Junk Becomes Magical
After Jane entered the junk yard, I suggested that she look around and see what attracted or interested her. She identified an old paint can. When I asked what she wanted to do with it, she said she wanted to open it. She found a screwdriver and she pried off the lid. To our mutual astonishment, the can was filled with a reflective silver liquid, like Mercury or the quicksilver of the alchemist. I instructed Jane to investigate the silver substance.
Unfinished Business from Childhood
As she gazed into the liquid she saw a scene from her early adolescence. Jane narrated it with very little guiding on my part. She was sitting on a branch of her favorite tree out in the distant woods behind her childhood home. She was upset and crying because she was trying to tell her mother how deeply hurt she was over some aspect of her pre-adolescence. She said her mother was not listening to her or attending to her feelings.
Sitting on a Branch with Jesus
After listening to Jane’s story and empathizing with her teenage feelings, I asked if I could join her on the branch. She granted me permission, so I joined her. I asked if there was any wise person who might help us. Since Jane was a Christian, she immediately said she thought Jesus was a wise guide. We invited Jesus to join us on the branch. She visualized the white robed Jesus who consoled her with divine love and compassion. We realized this incident was important to Jane because it was the moment she decided to no longer trust her mother with her feelings and inner life.
Jesus Gives Advice
I asked Jane if Jesus had any advice for her. She said he told her to make a trip back to the family farm, forgive her mother, and begin a conversation with her mother.
The Trip Home to Reunite, Communicate and Forgive
We gave our love, devotion and thanks to Jesus, came down from the tree and returned to the present moment in my office. The session had been so deep, profound, and moving that we both needed time to get back to the present and to process our experience.
Again, I use “we” since I was traveling with her in thought and feeling. When we had processed both her feeling and experience, I asked what she thought she needed to do next. She stated she would follow Jesus’ advice and make the trip back home to talk with her mother. It appeared the trip would be an act of forgiveness.
Some Time Passes and a Deeper Meaning Emerges
Some weeks after our session, Jane dropped by for a brief visit. She thanked me for the session and reported she had gone home to visit her mother. She was happy and relieved to have her mother back in her life. She also shared she had just found out that she was pregnant with her first child. In a spirit of mutual understanding, we both grasped the perfect timing of this imagery session and the fact that a higher power had guided our work together.
My Guiding Focus Changes
Because of this session, and many others like it, I began to focus much less on leading scripted guided imagery. I realized that as a “guide” I could both trust my own Higher Self and intuitive capacity as well as that of the “traveler.” My “wise part” could work in concert with the “wise part” of my client and together we could trust the outcome of our collaboration.
My Own Movement and Introduction to Interactive Guided Imagery
In 2010, I began working as department chair for Counseling and Health Psychology at Bastyr University outside of Seattle, WA. Bastyr is the foremost trainer of Naturopathic doctors in the United States and offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in Counseling and Health Psychology.
At Bastyr I developed classes in Psychosynthesis and Guided Imagery. While preparing the guided imagery course, I read a book Guided Imagery for Self-Healing by Marty Rossman, MD. Dr. Rossman was the co-founder of the Academy for Guided Imagery with David Bresler, Ph.D. Thinking their work was quite familiar I learned later that they had been exposed to Psychosynthesis work by Irving Oyle, MD., who used Psychosynthesis in his medical practice. Rossman and Bresler called their approach Interactive Guided Imagery. It features an ongoing dialogue between the guide and the traveler all through the work which allows the traveler to go deeply into their own wisdom for the direction of the work.
A Framework used by Marty Rossman and David Bresler in Interactive Guided Imagery
Bresler and Rossman’s work will seem familiar to the Psychosynthesis imagery practitioner. Their framework follows:
- Build a trusting relationship with the client.
As in all counseling work, the relationship between the counselor and counselee is central to the process. Imagery can be used in this process to discover issues standing behind the expressed need for help. The client’s expressed need will guide the work over time and will tend to evolve as the work progresses. It will be revisited and revised at the beginning of each session along with their desired work for that session.
- Teach/use relaxation techniques.
Many clients coming to a spiritually oriented therapist have already experienced relaxation work. If not, many approaches are available for relaxation including progressive muscle relaxation and other somatically oriented methods. After discussing the reactions to the last session and ascertaining the purpose for the current session, relaxation is used each session to let go of tension and open the day’s work.
- Establish an “imagaic” safe place.
The “safe sanctuary” image for the client may remain relatively constant or may change frequently. It is important that the image of the secure place be made as visual and multi-sensory as possible, a practice known as “deepening” the image. This safe place will feel familiar to the client and be his or her own creation.
- Create a wise guide image.
A guide, wise person, guiding spirit, spirit animal, or whatever seems right for the client will be used frequently. The wise guide will very often speak to the traveler in his or her own terms of reference and framework, which may not be that of the therapist. The wise guide typically has meaning for the client and may take the form of Moses, Jesus, a Shaman or something as mundane as a cute little bunny rabbit.
The therapist guides the client to bring in, or create, an image that is wise and wants only the best for him or her. The wise guide may remain constant for the course of the work. Alternatively, the wise guide may change depending on the session’s content and stage of the work. The wise guide may be an expert in some aspect of the work if the client so choses. While the therapist may use intuition to judge the validity of the wise guide image, it is the traveler’s inner guidance that will ultimately determine the nature of the guide.
- Interact with the wise guide.
The therapist assists the client with interacting with his or her wise guide and might suggest: “ask your guide about that” or “listen for what your guide wants to tell you.” This also serves as a “deepening process” in which a therapist frequently does not know where it will lead but must trust the process. If a client is not sure what to talk about in a session the guide will be asked to ask their guide what needs to be the session. Dream work is frequently done in sessions and, as in gestalt work the various parts and aspects of the dream may be entered into in the imagery.
- Processing and Grounding
Sessions typically end with a review of the work of the session. How the client feels about what occurred. And whatever grounding work may be needed to help the client re-enter the present moment. The traveler is often asked what they will do between session as is appropriate to the work and talk about might be the work in the next session. Like most counseling work the subject of a session might be the events that occurred between sessions.
Since I attempt to enter the client’s image as much as I am able, I often experience intuitive flashes as we travel together. If it feels right, I may share my images or observations with the client. Often, as strange as it might sound, I see the same image or visualize a part of the image the client did not verbalize. If it seems right, I will share this with the client. Shared dreams that occur between sessions may also deepen the work. Although it takes a great deal of trust to share dreams between the traveler and guide, it can be very powerful and help us to realize that “we” are being guided in the counseling process.
Learning About Interactive Guided Imagery
The previously mentioned book Guided Imagery for Self-Healing by Marty Rossman, MD., is very good place to start a study. Dr. Rossman and Andrew Weil, MD., produced a CD set titled Self-Healing with Guided Imagery: How to Use the Power of Your Mind to Heal Your Body, which is available at Amazon.com.
Resources for Further Study
“Since many of us in imagery work have used “pre-fabricated images” from books or our own teachers, the notion of using the client’s own constructed images to guide the process may feel strange or risky. Marty Rossman and David Bresler have done a great deal of work on the interactive approach and studying their work is an excellent place to start.”
Dr. David Bresler (https://thebreslercenter.com/) holds a Ph.D. in Health Psychology from UCLA and ran the pain clinic at UCLA. He has a strong background in psychology and health. He has many CD’s and downloadable materials on the various aspects of the Integrative approach. He also teaches a certificate program in Integrative Imagery.
A link to Dr. Besler’s Interactive Guided Imagery professional training program content can be viewed at the center’s website acadgi.com. All courses and workshops can be viewed at this same link. training is now on-line.
Dr. Marty Rossman (//thehealingmind.org/) is a wonderful resource in areas of imagery and health. He also has a book titled Self-Healing with Guided Imagery: How to Use the Power of Your Mind to Heal Your Body. It is available at Amazon.com.
Yoga Friends School – USA, P.O. Box 1600, Mt. Shasta, California 96094.
Photo: © Johannes Stasing, www.sta-fotografie.de
Springtime in Engelberg (Switzerland) with a view of the Hahnen Mountain