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Guided Affected Imagery Symboldrama



In 1948 Hanscarl Leuner, M.D. commenced a longitudinal study to ascertain how effective imagery was in psychotherapy.  Six years later, in 1954, he wrote about the use of images as a diagnostic tool, and as a method of checking the progress of psychotherapy.

The concise system of psychotherapy which he developed in the following years is known as ‘Symboldrama’ in Germany and Sweden, and ‘Guided Affective Imagery’ elsewhere.  He claimed it to be a sensitive form of therapy which provided psychodynamic material needed for genuine depth psychotherapy.  “This therapy is able to relieve acute neurotic disturbances in a short time.  Chronic cases can be treated in substantially less time than is needed for psychoanalysis.”

There are 4 standard imaginary situations that the patient is guided through to promote abreactions, spontaneous associations and insights.  The less the therapist tries to steer the patient in the imagery situation the better the therapeutic outcome.  However, when specifically indicated there are 6 techniques for guiding and managing imagery as follows:

1.   Inner Psychic Pacemaker

When a patient imagines a ‘benign’ figure, for example a horse, dog or any other non-threatening animal or figure, the therapist can suggest that the animal lead the patient wherever it wants to go, with the patient simply reporting verbally on the imagery journey.

2.   Confrontation

If the patient meets a threatening figure, instead of either encouraging him/her to run away or take up combat with the threatening figure, the therapist suggest to the patient that he/she stands perfectly still and where appropriate, gaze into the eyes of the threat.  This ‘confrontation’ is intended to find out exactly what the threat object represents and to assist in banishing the threat object from the patient’s psychic-imagery world.

3.   Feeding

‘Confrontation’ can bring about strong emotional reactions, so if the patient or therapist feel that this would be too difficult to deal with then it can be suggested the patient ‘feeds’ the threat (give it food).  By encouraging over-feeding it is felt this would normally lead to the threat becoming drowsy and more docile.

4.   Reconciliation

The patient is encouraged to talk to the threat, touch or display tenderness and friendship.  This can also be used in addition to ‘confrontation’ and ‘feeding’.

5.   Exhausting and Killing

Leuner considers this to be the most dangerous tool in G.A.I. and that it should only be used with a really experienced therapist.  The danger is in the patient seeing it as an attack on him/herself.  The object is to exhaust the threat object to the point where it is drained of life-force, whereupon it dies, and its remains are either dissolved in water or washed away.

6.   Magic Fluids

The patient can be asked to imagine taking a dip in the stream to wash away bodily aches and pains, or to achieve a renewal of spirit.  Equally, if the patient agrees to the imagery he/she can obtain relief from such ‘magic fluids’ as milk, spittle, mud, etc.

Shaun Brookhouse

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