Imagery is undoubtedly already a part of your everyday life. If you ever worry about the future, reminisce about the past, have sexual fantasies, or make plans, you use imagery whether you know it or not — you represent these things in some way to yourself internally — and that’s imagery!
The question really is: How can you use imagery purposefully to attain the peacefulness, enjoyment, and fulfillment you desire? The answer is to learn more about your imagination — how it works, and how to use it to accomplish what you want to accomplish.
Start with the materials here and experiment and practice. Learning to use your imagination well is like learning to do most things in life — it takes practice. Audio aids are a great help to guide you through a variety of imagery experiences for various purposes — whether relaxation, peace of mind, setting goals, planning, or dealing with illness or life crisis.
If you are in a hurry, dealing with a difficult situation, or want to learn in the most efficient way, consult with a psychotherapist who can help make sure you master the process in the least time. As with learning anything else, good coaching helps.
Once you familiarize yourself with using imagery, you may want to experiment with the best way to use it in the course of your day. Many people set aside about 20 minutes, one or two times a day, to formally relax and focus on using imagery to support their chosen goal, whether it be relaxation, healing, problem-solving, or imagery rehearsal of a plan. Others focus on it before falling asleep, or first thing in the morning. Others simply use their imagery as a type of affirmation, thinking of it briefly but frequently throughout the day, especially when they need the qualities it evokes in them. You can combine these methods, or move between them — like any other set of tools, imagery can be used for many purposes and in many ways. Your opportunity is to learn how to use this marvelous faculty and then adapt it to your own purposes and goals.
Music and imagery are intimately connected and music can be a potent force for stimulating imagery. Some popular imagery tapes have music backgrounds to make it easier to drift into a relaxed state of mind, while others don’t, in order to focus on teaching you how to relax and use imagery wherever you are. Of course, different music tends to evoke different threads of imagery — a war-like march will affect you differently than will a dreamy waltz, and rock and roll will induce different images than jazz does. Many relaxation and imagery tapes use tonal, non-melodic music to induce relaxation and may also include natural sounds like the ocean or a gentle rain to enhance that effect. Some of the best studies come from Steven Halpern, a pioneer in the use of music for relaxation and healing. Of course, if you don’t like the ocean or the rain, it may have an opposite effect from the one intended — picking background sounds or music that is relaxing, stimulating, healing, or inspiring to you is really the key.
Music therapists use music selectively to evoke emotional states from clients, and there is a very well-developed form of imagery therapy called Guided Imagery and Music, developed by Helen Bonny, which can be quite powerful in therapeutic work. In this form of work, the therapist elects music likely to provoke the kinds of emotions the client needs to work through, and then invites them to close their eyes and go on an imagery journey, watching their own imagery. At the end of the session, the client is invited to draw their images, and to discuss what they experienced or learned. While no verbal suggestions are made by the therapist, the music selected is a powerful suggestion of an emotional direction, and so the therapist must be highly skilled and know the client well.
Young people such as teens and children naturally spend a great deal of time in their imaginations, and imagery is a natural way for them to think. As we begin to explore the world as infants, we explore it with our senses, and then we turn those sensory impressions into internal representations of how the world is — those representations are stored in the form of sensory-based thoughts — also called “images.”
Young people process information very quickly and do not need induction periods of relaxation and quieting their mind to engage in imagery. Much of the time, we work with children’s imagery in a conversational way — “can you imagine being in a very beautiful, happy place? What does it look like? (Let them answer.) What sounds do you hear there? What does it smell like? What would you like to do there?” Or, for a scared child, “Imagine you have a powerful superhero protecting you — who is it? How do they protect you? Do they need any more help to make sure you are safe? Can you imagine they get all the help they need to make sure you are safe? Do you feel safer with them here?”
Children of school age can learn simple imagery techniques such as visualizing spelling words to improve their memories, learn to use imagery to improve their skill levels at learning, sports, and even learning to handle themselves well in class. We also use imagery with children in medicine to help them tolerate difficult procedures, to relax, to relieve pain, and to work though emotional difficulties.
Older children and teenagers can learn more structured skills for the same purposes (especially sports, performances, public speaking, and memory enhancement) and for helping them develop better social skills (talking to that cute guy or girl can be very stressful!) People of all ages benefit from using images in their daily lives and for specific goals.