How often have you struggled to put into words something that you’re feeling? Maybe it’s a goal you want to achieve that you can’t quite articulate. Or something feels off in your life, but you’re unsure exactly what it is. Equally, you may struggle when asked to brainstorm, coming up completely blank.
To help in all these situations, I like to use images with my clients. However, it wasn’t always this way.
Back when I was training as a psychotherapist, I got into a few arguments with one of my tutors. He was old-school psychoanalytic, and a strong believer in the ‘purity’ and ‘neutrality’ of the therapy space. According to him, there should never be anything but two people in the therapy room. Well, a couple of chairs and a couch and maybe a painting on the wall, but you had to think carefully about what the picture showed, to be as neutral as possible.
The concept of using objects or images purposefully as part of the therapy filled him with righteous anger. Yet, for me, what he was saying was blatantly ridiculous.
There is no such thing as a ‘neutral’ space. As soon as you walk into the room with someone, you look at what they are wearing, you listen to how they speak, you notice their perfume or aftershave or lack thereof. Beyond the therapist’s person, you take note of the colour the walls are painted, the style of the furnishings, where the building is, what kind of building it is. Already so much information on which to base assumptions and judgements.
If you get so much ‘extraneous’ information about someone from the first second you meet them, can there be such a thing as ‘neutrality’? My answer: No!
And if there is no neutrality, then bringing more things or images into the space isn’t a huge crime, a watering down of the therapeutic environment. In fact, it could even add to it!
If you’ve ever struggled to put things into words, using images or objects as a prompt can be really helpful.
For example, if you need to brainstorm something, choose a couple of images at random and see what ideas they help you come up with on your given subject. You can do this using postcards, or googling for something: a situation, an object, a person, even an emotion.
A visual cue may activate quite different thoughts and ideas than just working around the question logically. And the randomness of elements in an image can spark ‘out of the box’ thinking.
Looking for a Feeling
It’s not just about coming up with new ideas, either. You can also use images to figure out what you are feeling.
You may know things are a bit off somewhere, without knowing precisely why, or being able to say what it is you feel about the situation.
A visual cue provides an external way to gain clarity. Through reflecting on an image, you can achieve a different perspective. Rather than your feelings being inside you, hard to see, you project them outside, onto a picture. Then, by saying what you see, you can then realise what is going on inside.
So many of my clients have had ‘aha’ moments when asked to describe an image, and then asked where in their lives they have that feeling or have experienced something similar. Until you can get that little bit of distance, it can be hard to see something that is within yourself. Once it’s outside you, though, suddenly ‘boom’ you can see it!
Imagining Your Future
Not only that, images can also be used to connect with what you want to be feeling.
Have you ever had the experience of wanting something – a new job, a better relationship, an exciting holiday – and then discovering that even with that thing, you still don’t feel happy?
Often, you may put your hopes onto a particular thing or person. In fact, what you are really seeking is to feel a particular way. Getting clear on how it is you want to feel can open the path to achieving that in ways that are real, rather than what your head tells you should be the solution.
Choosing an image that represents your desired goal, and then considering how it ‘feels’, rather than just what it represents logically, helps you figure out what you really want to achieve.
Equally, there is a large body of evidence for the effectiveness of visualisation in achieving your goals. This is one part of the science behind hypnosis. However, not everyone is skilled at visualising, even when in trance. Having an image to act as a springboard can be really powerful, and empowering.
Using Imagery in Coaching
In a coaching context, you are often encouraged to create a vision board. This helps with the process of clarifying what you want. It also helps in goal-setting, establishing what you would need to see, hear and feel to know you have achieved your goal.
You can also use a single image in brainstorming, or as a motivational tool. The old practice of putting a picture on your fridge to remind you of your motivation (or in more modern terms perhaps making it the screen saver on your phone or computer), really can work.
Using Imagery in Hypnosis
Some people find it really easy to visualise when in trance. However, if you are not one of them, it can be very helpful to have one or more images to use as a springboard for imaginal work. In this way, you can make your visualisations clearer and more powerful, helping you to achieve your goals faster and more effectively.
Equally, using images can be a way to determine the focus for a particular session. It can clarify what you need in the moment, and what you want to achieve. It can also be helpful if you are someone who has difficulty putting what you feel into words. In this way, it helps you explain your goals to your therapist, so that you can better design an approach together.
Using Imagery in Tapping
In tapping, like hypnosis, it can be important to hone in on what you are feeling in the moment, or about a particular subject. Using images can help with this, providing a safe distance so that you can explain something without having to go into the content of your material, if you don’t want to. You can also use an image as your ‘reminder’ – using the words ‘that image’ instead of having to define the emotions involved or name the situation.
This helps you to get in touch with the material you want to work on, without having to go into details you don’t want to discuss, or that are too painful for you to approach directly. In this way, you keep the power of the tapping, without having to disclose anything you don’t want to, or go into details that might feel too raw.
If you’d like to talk through how this approach might benefit you, please get in touch by phone (07561 231 281) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).