Working With Imagery: Compassionate Nurturing Imagery And Imagery Rehearsal

By: Lisa Philippart

Welcome to the third and final article in my series on working with imagery. We will be discussing the last two imagery techniques: Compassionate Nurturing Imagery and Imagery Rehearsal. If you have experienced a critical or abusive childhood, you may benefit from developing compassionate nurturer (CN) imagery. This imagery can be used for its own sake to promote self-compassion, by bringing up a “perfect nurturer” image during times of self-criticism or negative self-talk. It can also be used as part of imagery re-scripting (see my previous article,) by introducing the presence of this compassionate nurturer into distressing memories.

To begin, you will need to develop your own compassionate nurturer. I suggest avoiding using an actual person, and instead create a fictional figure or spiritual presence. Ask yourself what you might need this nurturer image to be like; what qualities you need this nurturer to have; and what you would find to be most helpful, soothing, or calming. The nurturer image should be wise, strong, accepting, warm, compassionate, and caring. As you create your nurturer image, explore your senses…appearance, smells, touch, sounds, and sensations. Ask yourself, what emotions does this image evoke? Is there a name that you would like to give this compassionate nurturer image? Once you have secured the CN image in your mind, we can utilize imagery re-scripting by taking these steps:

  • Bring your CN image into the front of your brain.
  • Focus on the presence of this imagery now; its sole purpose is to be there for you, to help you.
  • Tap into your sense’s memory of your CN — smells, sounds, etc.
  • What do you notice? Can you feel the presence of your CN?
  • Really focus on that feeling, and the presence of your nurturer.
  • You can now imagine a distressing scenario, but with your CN by your side.
  • How does this change the event or memory?
  • What does your nurturer do or say?

Imagery Rehearsal is used to make positive changes to the imagined outcome of a feared future event. You may begin by examining the imagined scenario in detail. This would be followed by another detailed description of how you would like things to be in that situation. It is important to identify unhelpful thoughts that accompany the situation (I may look stupid, I always mess up, etc.) and come up with a more realistic perspective. The purpose of this exercise is to imagine the painful scenario in unbearable detail but coping and getting through it…seeing it through to a successful completion. You allow yourself to safely “observe” the difficulties you might come up with during the scene, and then identify ways of dealing with them. You progress through the imagery rehearsal as follows:

  • What do you see, hear, smell, sense?
  • What’s happening?
  • What is being said or done?
  • What can be different?
  • What is going on now?

Negative imagery will come up, but with the tools you have learned to use, you can deal with most situations and see them through to a successful (maybe not perfect) completion.

By: Lisa Philippart

Licensed Professional Counselor