Psychotherapy and Counselling – Reflections on Practice, Part 5 Psychodynamic Therapies, Ch 21, pp 283 – 295 Noble, C. & Day, E. eds, Oxford University Press, Australia and New Zealand, 2015.
Embodied Imagination: Working with Dreams and Memories to Facilitate Therapeutic Change
Jennifer Hume and Michelle Morris
Embodied Imagination is a therapeutic and creative way of working with dreams and memories, pioneered in the late 1970’s by Robert Bosnak, a Dutch Jungian analyst. It is a radical and rapidly developing technique, based on neuroscience, alchemical principles, ancient incubation techniques, complexity theory, phenomenology, the work of archetypal psychologist James Hillman and the work of Carl Jung. Working with images stimulates unfamiliar states of consciousness and raises awareness of unconscious material. An image is explored as an active environment in which new elements can emerge. Slow observation of images facilitates entering an unfamiliar “ego-alien” body and its subjective states. Culminating in a complex embodied pattern expands both awareness and psychological flexibility, develops new neural pathways from which something new and profoundly transforming unfolds. This chapter covers both the theory and practice of Embodied Imagination and includes case studies showing the efficacy of using Embodied Imagination in a clinical setting.
“When you pay attention to your dreams, you inhabit a much larger part of your soul.” Robert Bosnak
Embodied Imagination is a therapeutic way of working with dreams and memories, pioneered in the late 1970s by Robert Bosnak (1948 – ), a Dutch Jungian analyst. His methodological process of working with dreams, memories and illness using Embodied Imagination has developed over thirty years of practice, writing and teaching and draws on the work of Carl Jung, phenomenology, alchemical principles, ancient incubation techniques, complexity theory, neuroscience and the work of archetypal psychologist James Hillman.
In the therapeutic setting Embodied Imagination involves the client (Throughout this text the terms dreamworker and therapist are used interchangeably), as are dreamer and client, according to context working with images drawn either from their dreams or from memories that stimulate unfamiliar states of consciousness and raise awareness of unconscious material. Together the client and therapist explore an image as an active environment in which new elements can emerge. The slow observation of images facilitates the ability of the client to enter the unfamiliar perspective of the dream image along with its associated subjective body states. The culmination of this re-organisation of conflicting elements into a complex embodied pattern, expands both awareness and psychological flexibility, develops new neural pathways and allows for something new and profoundly transforming to unfold.
Clinical applications of Embodied Imagination include traumatic memory, illness and disease, as well as psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and grief, in both group and individual work. In ‘Brief In-Depth’ therapy, Embodied Imagination is employed to explore a core issue as part of an ongoing therapeutic process, consisting of approximately eight sessions. An incubation process is employed, coming from the Asclepian medicine notion of seeding the dreaming; that is, asking dreaming to respond to a particular issue.
This chapter outlines the basics of the key theoretical elements that underpin Embodied Imagination and explains the terminology and the process framework followed in therapy sessions. Two case studies illustrate how Embodied Imagination has helped clients with very different issues.
Theoretical influences and concepts
Embodied Imagination draws on a wide field of psychological theory and related disciplines. These theoretical influences inform a set of holistic and integrated clinical practices in which dreams and memories are explored for their creative and healing power. Clinical practices are illustrated in the case studies and described in summary form at relevant points in the discussion of theoretical influences and concepts.
The influence of Carl Jung’s work on Robert Bosnak was far-reaching and profound, beginning with his experiences as an analysand and furthered by his training at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland from 1971 – 1977.
In his early work with Embodied Imagination, Bosnak incorporated a number of Jung’s basic premises: the importance of including the body in work with the psyche, his phenomenological stance, his alchemical studies and his work with the unconscious and dreams. All of these elements can be seen as seminal to the development of Embodied Imagination.
A particular early influence on Bosnak was that of the transcendent function explained by Jung as ‘aris(ing) from the union of conscious and unconscious contents.’ (1969. p. 69). Jung considered this to be fundamental to the process of individuation, the means by which the psyche develops into maturity. He thought that dreams were the most direct way of connecting with unconscious material and developed the method of active imagination to further explore dream material. Although in a significant section of the Red Book (2009), Jung describes an experience of being embodied in an image, this did not significantly alter his practice of Active Imagination. In Embodied Imagination Bosnak emphasises the place of the senses as a means of more deeply and directly contacting unconscious material communicated through dreaming.