"Imagination is more important than
knowledge" Albert Einstein
Imagery techniques and visualisation has long
been used by most if not all cultures of the world, ancient and modern, and by
most therapeutic approaches. Imagery is considered to be more effective
when we are feeling relaxed.
Imagery is used as a means to
improve future personal performance and
bring about future success
improve mood states
reduce distress associated with traumatic
gain understanding, insight, inner wisdom
help overcome physical illnesses
improve sports performance
There is a growing body of evidence to support
its use in a wide
of physical conditions, and increasing evidence of its effectiveness
in mental health (e.g. Gilbert & Irons 2004, Holmes, Arntz, Smucker 2007,
Holmes, Crane, Fennell, Williams 2007, Stopa 2009). Imagery techniques are most often
used as an integral part of a more comprehensive package of therapy.
visualisation with relaxation by getting comfortable in a quiet place where
you won't be disturbed, and take a couple of minutes to focus on your breathing,
close your eyes, become aware of any tension in your body, and let that tension
go with each out-breath.
visualisations can be strengthened by ensuring you engage all your senses
in building the picture in your mind's eye - it's more than just "seeing"!
If you notice any negative links or images entering your positive imagery (or
positives entering negative imagery), then abort that image and think of
visualisation by taking a few moments to bring yourself back into the room
where you are, opening your eyes and looking around, sitting up, and bringing
yourself back to alertness in the 'here and now'.
Relaxing 'Safe Place' Imagery
Imagine a place where you
can feel calm, peaceful and safe. It may be a place you've been to before,
somewhere you've dreamt about going to, or maybe somewhere you've seen a picture
Focus on the colours in your peaceful safe
Now notice the sounds that are around you, or
perhaps the silence.
Think about any smells you notice there.
Then focus on any skin sensations - the earth
beneath you, the temperature, any movement of air, anything else you can touch.
Now whilst you're in your peaceful and safe
place, you might choose to give it a name, whether one word or a phrase that you
can use to bring that image back, anytime you need to.
You can choose to linger there a while, just
enjoying the peacefulness and serenity. You can leave whenever you want to, just
by opening your eyes and being aware of where you are now.
Consider, in detail, the trait, skill or
behaviour you would like to achieve, in what situation, with whom etc.
Rehearse the situation in the imagination,
using the desired behaviours, skills etc. Imagine seeing yourself in that
situation, as you want to be - what you look like, how you sound - what you're
saying and how you say it, how you see yourself acting
Anticipate others' responses to this new you -
rehearse them responding in different ways, sometimes negatively - and then
rehearse those difficult scenarios with yourself responding in the way you'd
like to respond
If necessary, prepare a script of what you want
to say (e.g. when planning to stand up to someone in authority)
Use this imagery several times a day, for a
minimum of 10 days. The more you practice, the easier it becomes, and the
easier you will find the actual situation when it happens.
For example, apprehension about a job interview
Enact a detailed scene in the mind
Use different scenarios of the situation - see
yourself being introduced to the interviewer, and also taking the initiative and
Imagine being asked likely questions, and
rehearse your responses
See yourself looking calm and confident -
imagine what that looks like, what you'll be doing, how you'll be doing it
Breaking Bad Habits
Needing help in giving up smoking, unhealthy
eating habits, or other unhelpful habits? Using negative, rather
than positive, imagery can help by attaching a negative image to your unhealthy
habit, causing you to want to avoid doing it. For example, someone who
wants to stop eating chocolate might...
Imagine eating a piece of chocolate, then
noticing that the rest of the bar is covered in vomit (you could use any
substance that you find particularly distasteful)
Imagine the smell and taste of vomit in your
'Feel' the sensation of wanting to gag and
Perhaps see and hear yourself vomiting down the
front of your clothes, a brown, sticky liquid chocolate, mixed in with all
manner of other noxious substances and smells, and consider the consequences of
vomiting in this way
The more unpleasant the image, the more
powerful it is likely to be
Practice this imagery several times a day
When you next feel the urge to eat chocolate,
bring up that vivid multi-sensory picture in your mind's eye, noticing all the
sensations you experience
Confident, Competent, Content
We can use imagery to help us feel better about
Think of a situation or event in the past when
you have strongly felt this way. Or think of a person (real or fictional)
who has the qualities you desire.
Think about that time, or that person - what do
you see? What do you hear? How are you/they behaving? What do
you/they look like? What do you hear? What else do you notice?
What feelings do you notice as you imagine
yourself at that time, or being that person? What do you feel now?
What physical sensations do you notice?
Can you think of a word which describes this
good feeling, a word you can use to bring back this feeling whenever you need
Now focus on that word with the image, and
notice the feelings
You are now able to bring back this positive
feeling, whenever you want or need to.
You can combine this technique with "Goal
Rehearsal" and imagine yourself in a situation, with these positive feelings.
Wise Inner Advisor
If you're unsure about something, or need some
guidance, then we all have some form of wise inner part of us which knows.
Start with relaxing Safe Place imagery, then
you can imagine walking along a path a little way and noticing a "Wise Inner
Advisor" - this might be an older person, a representation of another being,
perhaps a religious or spiritual figure, or some other being. Use whatever
feels right for you.
Make the image stronger by focusing on the
scene, what you can see, hear, smell, touch.
Spend some time just being with your Wise Inner
Advisor, feeling peaceful and comfortable.
Take the opportunity to ask your Wise Inner
Advisor for general guidance or for advice on a particular issue. Don't
expect an immediate answer, but be receptive to whatever comes up.
Some people notice in the following hours, days
or weeks that they've received their "answer", perhaps in a very unexpected way.
Imagery for Depression
When we feel
depressed, we get caught up in cycle of negative thinking and imagery, doing
less, and consequently feeling more depressed (see this page).
Whilst it can be difficult to change our negative thinking, people often find it
easier to see themselves in their mind's eye, enjoying the activities they used
to enjoy doing. Doing this 2 or 3 times a day can be helpful in lifting
our mood, and help us start to change our negative focus. The activity we
visualise need not be something we're planning to do in the future, the aim is
simply to reactivate more helpful thinking and imagery. As with all other
imagery exercises, it is helpful to strengthen the image by thinking about each
of our senses, noticing even small details in what we can see and hear etc.
It is also often helpful to use the other exercises described above.
We can also visualise
ourselves breathing in the desired colour associated with a positive or helpful
feeling, and breathing out the colour associated with the negative feeling.
Breathe in orange
(positive energy), breathe out blue / black
Breathe in blue
(calming), breathe out red
Breathe in blue
(calming) or green
(balance), breathe out red.
with Distressing Images:
Manipulation & Imagery Rescripting
can get horribly distressing intrusive images that just pop into our heads, and
we have trouble getting rid of them again. The image may be based on a real
memory, or just some random terrible image. These images can trigger strong
physical sensations, and intense emotions of fear, dread, anger or sadness.
We can learn
to manipulate or change the image so that we reduce the distressing feelings:
putting the image on a TV screen, now with an imaginary remote control, make
the image smaller, making it more distant, perhaps turn it into black and
white, remove the sound or give it a different soundtrack.
plate or sheet of strong clear plastic and put it between your face and the
image. Push that image away from your face, until it gets smaller and is
imagery by coming up with a more positive or acceptable outcome - see it
through to a successful completion (see examples such as goal rehearsal,
confident & competent, or positive imagery for depression)
around a ‘bad’ feeling
can get a ‘bad’ feeling in our body. It’s possible to turn this feeling around
by using our imagination. Ask yourself (example in italics):
Where is this feeling in your
If this feeling had a shape, what
would it be? Oval shaped
How big would it
be? Rugby ball sized
And what colour would it
be? Dark blue
What texture or consistency would
it be? Solid mass
For this feeling to be better,
what shape does it need to be? Round
And what colour would it
What texture or consistency would
it be? Warm, light,translucent
IRRT is NOT
a self-help method, but is included here as it is an imagery-based therapy
effectively used in treating traumatic memories and associated belief
structures, particularly those of adult survivors of childhood trauma. Smucker and Dancu (2005) describe the therapy in
their book. The imagery component consists of imaginal exposure
to the traumatic memory, followed by rescripting the memory to include seeing
oneself as an adult in that situation, confronting the perpetrator and gaining a
sense of mastery, and then rescuing and protecting the child. Imagery will
also include adult-child interactions.