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X Imagery

An image is a sense of …[something]. A thought is a meaning of …[something]. An image may include a meaning, so an image is in some fashion, more than a thought. Image as in imagining, does not need a visual picture. Although we tend to think of visualizations as the quintessential of imagery, some people only sense the image, but do not see it.

Images aren’t necessarily limited to the visual but can be sounds, tastes, smells or a combination of sensations. A certain smell, for example, may invoke either pleasant or bad memories in you. Similarly, going to a place where you had a bad accident may instantly invoke visions of the accident and initiate flight or fight response.

A mental image is a ‘right brain’ phenomenon. Because children learn a great deal through the ‘right brain’, before language and left brain activity become dominant around four years of age, some of the most difficult problems in living are connected to quirks and images which are ineffable. This is why the left brain process of Cognitive Process Correction is limited.

Infancy is the time of greatest learning as well as greatest need. If the need is not appropriately addressed the learning is likely to be distorted. But more importantly, perhaps, is that the learning is in a code that is not easily articulated. A person may feel worthless, hopeless and helpless [the big three of distorted thinking] and not even know why. These are often the children [or adults] whose behavior IS the problem, since neither we nor they can figure out the ‘inner logic’ that makes the behavior seem reasonable.

The content that the neonate must learn is usually conceptualized as trust. If the child does not learn or learns a distorted version of ‘trust’, s/he is likely to have continued relationship problems throughout life. While there are a great many diagnostic labels we could use to describe these people, the fact is that unless they are able to bring the thoughts [quirks and images] into the left brain and articulate it, they have limited ability to change it – at least in conventional manner.

From a non-conventional position, there is the potential of changing the images and quirks themselves without ever acknowledging or understanding them. Cross mapping submodalities is a strategy that has been used to change the emotional content of the ineffable thought without ever bringing it into consciousness. Essentially this is a process in which the individual visualizes a distressing person or thing that is distressing to them. Usually the quality or submodalities will be dark, not bright, smaller than large, and distant, not near. By then visualizing a positive picture [bright, colorful and large], one can switch the position and visual construct of the pictures. Done quickly several time, one is said to replace the codes [submodalities] that go with the memory and through that process change the emotional content of the experience. This has not been scientifically validated, but such validation is impossible if no traditional body will fund it.

More conventional interventions would include guided imagery, narrative and metaphor counseling and the unanswerable questions such as found in solutions focused counseling. All of these are designed to help the individual articulate the quirk or image beyond mere metaphor and constitute the process of cognitive restructuring. The idea is to bring the nonconscious to consciousness. When a person is able to articulate an understanding of something, they know it. To know it is to be able to examine and change it as necessary.

Consider the following list of questions:

  • What shape are a beagle’s ears?
  • How many windows are in your bedroom?
  • Which is a darker shade of green, a pine tree or a frozen pea?
  • When a person stands up straight, which is higher, her navel or her wrist?
  • If the letter D is turned on its back and put on top of a J, what does the combination remind you of?

When attempting to answer these questions, you perhaps produced mental imagery – images of beagles, of windows, and of peas. For some of these questions, you probably had to produce two different images to compare to one another, while for some of the other questions you probably had to rotate the image you produced from the orientation at which it started. For those of you who visualize, these tasks probably also seemed routine – the production and manipulation of mental images are common aspects of our mental lives. But what are these mental images? What role do they play in our mental life?

The traditional conception of the link between imagination and possibility comprises the following two claims:

Unimaginability claim: if something is unimaginable, then it is impossible.

Imaginability claim: if something is imaginable, then it is possible.

We should be clear that the possibility invoked by the thesis is usually meant to be a very weak one, namely, logical possibility. Importantly, logical possibility far outstrips physical possibility; physically possibility is governed by the laws of physics, but what is logically possible is governed only by the laws of logic. Were the imagination meant to be a guide to the physically possible, the imaginability claim would be immediately problematic.

It is estimated that an average person has 10,000 thoughts or images flashing through his/her mind each day. Your thoughts have a direct influence on the way you feel and behave. If you tend to dwell on sad or negative thoughts, you most likely are not a very happy person. Unharnessed, a steady dose of worry and other negative images can alter your physiology and make you more susceptible to a variety of ailments, ranging from acne to arthritis, headaches to heart disease, ulcers to urinary tract infections. This is just another clear example of the power the mind exerts over the body.

But if you can learn to direct and control the images in your head, you can help your body heal itself. Our imagination is like a spirited, powerful horse. If it’s untamed, it can be dangerous and run you over. But if you learn to use your imagination in a way that is purposeful and directed, it can be a tremendously powerful vehicle to get you where you want to go, including to better health.


There are four basic methods of utilizing ‘mental images’ for purposes of healing. In actuality, these are often mixed in various ways to accomplish specific goals.

  1. Scripts and affirmations: Imagining a scenario in the manner in which you want to perform and habituating it with affirmations.

    Used in fantasy for pain control or to enhance the immune system. Also used for covert modeling of a behavior that you wish to learn, as a child imagines him/herself at bat or skating a performance. Used for anticipatory rehearsal – how you want to behave in some future situation.

  2. Role Taking: Using associated and dissociated roles to change the emotional content of a situation or circumstance.

    Used for phobia exposure by taking 1st position: being personally involved, 2nd position – watching yourself being personally involved from a safe distance, or 3rd position where you watch yourself watching yourself being personally involved from a safe distance. Each position is further away from personal involvement and therefore, less threatening or emotionally engaging.

  3. Relocation: Changing of time and space of an event. You have the ability to imagine yourself in a calm, quiet or peaceful place or to imagine yourself as a child or as an older person.

    Used to change history either by revisiting an experience and changing the thoughts and emotional content of that experience by interjecting new observations or by envisioning a future event in a general way to calm one’s fears about what will happen.

  4. Reciprocal Contemplation: A seemingly mystical approach to talking to your self and your body parts about why they are the way they are. Reciprocal means given or shown by each of two sides – alternate. Contemplation means attentive consideration of something, a concentration of the mind on spiritual matters or archaically to observe omens carefully.

    Used when the person is ambivalent such as when they have habits that they know are not helpful to them, but cannot seem to stop performing. Based on a belief that all behavior has a positive rational for existing, the person asks that part of themselves that wants to continue the habit to indicate what it is that is attained and then to seek alternative solutions. What really is taking place is the equivalent of the ‘unanswerable question’ – since it is unanswerable, but the person is somehow required to answer it, the individual must ‘make up’ a response and the only responses that s/he is capable of ‘making up’ are those that subconsciously have relevance and validity for the problem.