In Consultation


In Consultation

Picture This!

May/June 2018


Q: I often ask clients to focus on mental images, such as a wise inner guide, but find this work falls flat for some people. How can I use imagery more effectively?

A: Many years ago, I attended a two-hour workshop on ego-state therapy and came home never to practice the same way again. When clients said, “I’ll never find love,” instead of saying, “It sounds like you feel hopeless,” or challenging their self-defeating automatic thought, I asked, “What part of you is making dire predictions?” One client, Aimee, said she pictured a little gnome telling her she’s a failure. She added that she felt it had been with her since high school, but a different part of her had always been able to counter it with compassionate words. When I asked her what the compassionate part looked like, she said she immediately pictured a purple dolphin, able to cut through negativity with grace and the hint of a playful smile. As we explored the kinds of things the dolphin might say to the gnome, they took on new depth and meaning. Throughout our work together, she often reported calling upon the dolphin between sessions whenever the gnome got particularly loud.

I soon found, however, that unlike Aimee, other clients had trouble imagining their various subpersonalities in useful ways. When I asked them to visualize the angry part of themselves—or even a safe place or a wise inner guide—they struggled to bring these mental images to life, which of…

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