The Power of Visualisation in Therapy

As someone who struggles with disassociation and connecting to my body, I have found naming and visualising my feelings to be an incredibly powerful technique for understanding and translating complex emotions into simpler needs that can then more easily be met through my own self-care.

This blog post gives you some insight into my experience of visualisation in therapy, including how these conversations between my therapist and I tend to go, as well as how the process can be used to inform the work you do between sessions and on a long-term basis.

Visualisation in Therapy: Tips & Tricks

Before we jump into the bit about why I described myself like a carrot today, I want to share a few tips and tricks that have helped me get more comfortable with the experience of visualising my emotions/feelings/thoughts.

  • Trust your instinct — don’t worry about how it sounds, go with what comes to mind first. It’s not stupid or silly, it’s coming to your for a reason.
  • Don’t be afraid to pause and think — if nothing comes to mind immediately, don’t panic. Be still and try to feel the feelings.
  • Tune into your body — think about where you feel the feelings. This will help when it comes to painting a visual picture.
  • Go with the picture — there is a reason what comes to mind for you comes to mind for you. The picture you’re painted isn’t wrong, it’s insightful. It offers clues about how you and your therapist can work together to ensure your needs are getting met and your feelings are being validated. Trust in it.

Now… let me tell you about the carrot analogy.

Carrots, Analogies and Re-framing Self-Talk

I described myself as a carrot today. And while on it’s face that sounds pretty straight forward, albeit a bit odd, I can assure you, it’s more profound than it sounds.

To help me reconnect to my body, my therapist likes to ask me a series of questions: what do I feel, where in my body do I feel it, what kind of visual picture can I paint to express what I’m feeling? The practice of visualisation in therapy helps me tap back into my body, understand its needs, and respond with compassion and thoughtfulness. It’s not easy, but it’s the closest I have come to hearing my body and having actual, tangible responses.

Which brings us to today.

Having just come off a brilliant holiday and facing just a week and half before I start a new job, I told my therapist I feel exhausted. Surprisingly so. Disappointing so! So exhausted that it feels as if half my body is stuck underground and every step forward requires lifting my legs up through the earth. (side note: I now start thinking of word pictures like this without being prompted, which is really exciting because it means I’m getting a lot better at tuning with my body!).

As I thought about where I feel my exhaustion, however, I realised it is situated in my head and shoulders — not my legs. I adjusted my analogy accordingly. Rather than my legs being underground, I told her, it feels as though I’m standing on my head with my head and torso buried below the earth.

She asked what a body buried that way might need? I need paused for a while before shaking my head. As is often the case, I told her I didn’t know.

She persisted: what does it feel and look like to be buried that way?

It took me a few seconds (remember, pausing and thinking is okay!), but then I blurted: I feel like a carrot! I am utterly useless unless plucked from the earth. Swiftly. Without a second thought.

So what would a carrot need in this situation, before it gets picked?

To ripen (the analogy was working effortlessly for me at this point). To mature. To live into its full potential.

She asked what it would look and feel like for me to ‘ripen’ over the next week and half, while I await the start of my new career.

I told her it would feel like a softening of edges, a general ease and flow from one moment to the next. No fighting, just intuition, but also discomfort as if I’m stretching deeper into something — maybe myself. Gentle, but perhaps a little awkward.

She told me that was excellent and I smiled to myself in self-congratulatory way. Then she asked: And so what do you need this week? I immediately jumped into the list of ‘shoulds’ (i.e. I should work out, I should eat 1500 calories, I should organise my closet) before catching myself and pausing. I rephrased: I would like to…

I would like to decide who I want to be this next week, how I want to be. I would like to then make a list of things I can do that will help me be that way. This list will be things that have no length of time or other associated obligations or constraints. I would like this list to include things that allow me to be gentle with myself, kind, patient. Things that bring softness and expansion.

I paused and chuckled.

I told her it felt a bit contrived to phrase things this way. She said that it’s okay to feel that way right now. Eventually it won’t feel fake, just kind. ‘Should’ invites shame. By removing the word from our vocabulary, we open ourselves up to all sorts of positive things we may choose to do for ourselves simply because it will feel good, meet a need, feed the soul.

I like the sound of that. So that’s what I’m working toward: re-framing how I think about things and how I talk to myself to move from a state of obligation, shame, guilt, and resistance, into one of possibility, trust, freedom, intuition.

On the topic of who I want to be this next week and how I want to be, I settled on this:

I would like to be gently productive. I would like to trust in what I hear and feel in my body and know that today’s decisions and feelings and experiences are just for today. Tomorrow is still unknown. This is the essence of ripening for me: embracing nature’s pace and change as the only constant.

Visualisation in Therapy: Making it Tangible

I have my visual: I’m a carrot and I want to ripen, softening the edges, and expanding over the next week. I know I want to do this with gentleness and patience. So now I need to work out what activities I can do to cultivate ripening in a compassionate, loving way.

My ideas?

  1. Making calls/scheduling appointments regarding health-related issues I haven’t been prioritising.
  2. Resting when I am tired. This includes sleeping in, taking naps and going to bed earlier.
  3. Working on my blog and business plan, without the obligation of getting a certain amount done each day, thereby approaching it from a more playful perspective.
  4. Eating what sounds good to my body, instead of what I feel I ‘should’ eat to ‘look better’, ‘loose weight’, etc.
  5. Experimenting with 30 minutes variations of my resistance workouts, especially on days when my body feels heavy and exhausted.
  6. Practicing yoga to loosen up my neck, back and legs.
  7. Spending less time on social media (Instagram).
  8. Reading — news, novels, self-help — even if it’s just 10 minutes per day.
  9. Planning upcoming adventures and trips. I’ve really enjoyed all of the adventures Rory and I have had around Devon and there is so much we can do even closer to home. I would like to make a list of some of the places I would like to explore, as well as plan our trip to California for Christmas.
  10. Talking to family. Living half way around the world is tough and lately, I have felt especially disconnected from them. Over the next 10 days, I would like to carve out some time to catch up with them individually over the phone.

There aren’t any right or wrong answers because it’s not about what I choose to do, but more about what motivates me to do it. I have constantly taken inventory of and be honest about what is driving my choices and whether or not the self-talk and attitude behind it is contributing to who and how I want to be.

Visualisation in therapy has given me a better understanding of what I feel and where that emotion is carried in my body. It has helped me decipher my needs at times when I have felt simultaneously overwhelmed by my feelings and out of touch with myself. Finally, it has given me a way to come back to body when my anxiety and depression have felt as though they were swallowing me whole.

I hope this blog post about visualisation in therapy was helpful and that the tips and tricks help you feel more comfortable when it comes to tapping into your intuition and trusting your gut. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments. Otherwise, I would love to know whether this is a technique you’ve tried before and how you found it!

x Cristina