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Home arrow Psychology arrow Using Mental Imagery in Counselling and Psychotherapy: A Guide to More Inclusive Theory and Practice


In this chapter I have outlined some of the main practice issues that can arise when using mental imagery in therapeutic practice - the most significant ones are concerned with safe practice. The power of a method that bypasses conscious defences is, of course, also the source of its greatest danger. Many of the difficulties and challenges that arise in practice are concerned with the processing function of imagery as clients can easily be overwhelmed by the triggering of repressed memories. Most of the guidance given in this chapter is designed for the early stages of working with more inclusive imagery. My experience has been that as clients become more familiar with accessing and working with mental images they become more skilled and confident in this practice. However, it is always important to bear in mind the intersubjective context of this work and that clients’ relational patterns also shape how they engage with the imagery work itself.

Finally, I would argue that the most basic issue, colouring all aspects of this practice, is the client’s culturally conditioned attitude towards imagination: many clients with a Western heritage will find it difficult to accept the validity of their mental images. Consequently, there is an educative dimension to this work. This chapter has included some strategies designed to increase clients’ understanding of the way that mental imagery operates as well as increasing their skills in its use. One of the implicit aims of a more inclusive practice with mental imagery is to help clients reclaim a neglected inner resource - memorably encapsulated in the title of Fromm’s (1951) classic text The Forgotten Language.


Desoille, R. (1966). The Directed Daydream, New York: Psychosynthesis Research Foundation.

Fromm, E. (1951). The Forgotten Language: An introduction to the meaning of dreams, fairy tales and myths, New York: Rinehart.

Hobbes, T. (1996). Leviathon, ed. R. Tuck, Revised student edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rennie, D. L. (1994). ‘Clients’ Deference in Psychotherapy: A qualitative analysis’, Journal of Counselling Psychology, 41: 427-437.

Sheikh, A. A. (1978). ‘Eidetic Psychotherapy’ in J. L. Singer and K. S. Pope (eds) The Power of Human Imagination: New methods in psychotherapy, 197-222, New York: Plenum Press.

Watkins, M. (1984). Waking Dreams, 3rd revised edn, Dallas, TX: Spring Publications Inc.

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