Matthew Harwood

Jungian Analysis, Psychotherapy, Internal Family Systems

Active Imagination

In addition to his work with dreams, Jung pioneered a powerful new technique of interacting with the depths of the psyche known as ‘Active Imagination’. Essentially it is a dialogue between yourself and the different parts of you that live within the unconscious.

For those clients who have an aptitude for this way of working, I have found that it provides a rich and useful tool for effecting change within the psyche and resolving problems, at a very deep level.

How It Works

Here’s a description by Jungian Analyst, Robert Johnson:-

‘In some ways it is similar to dreaming, except that you are fully awake and conscious during the experience. This, in fact, is what gives this technique its distinctive quality. Instead of going ino a dream, you go into your imagination while you are awake. You allow the images to rise up out of the unconscious, and they come to you on the level of imagination just as they would come to you in dream if you were asleep. In your imagination you begin to talk to your images and interact with them. They answer back. You are startled to find out that they express radically different viewpoints from those of your conscious mind. They tell you things you never consciously knew and express thoughts you never consciously thought.’

A Powerful & Effective Method ….

And here’s how Jung described the moment when he first discovered ‘Active Imagination’.

‘I was sitting at my desk once more, thinking over my fears. Then I let myself drop. Suddenly it was as though the ground literally gave way beneath my feet, and I plunged down into dark depths. I could not fend off a feeling of panic. But then abruptly, at not too great a depth, I landed on my feet in a soft, sticky mass. I felt great relief, although I was apparently in complete darkness. After a while my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, which was rather like a deep twilight. Before me was the entrance to a dark cave, in which stood a dwarf with a leathery skin….’

A short time later he had this experience:-

‘Near the steep slope of a rock I caught sight of two figures, an old man with a white beard and a beautiful young girl. I summoned up my courage and approached them as though they were real people, and listened attentively to what they told me. The old man explaned that he was Elijah, and that gave me a shock. But the girl staggered me even more, for se called herself Salome!…. They had a black serpent living with them which displayed an unmistakable fondness for me. I stuck close to Elijah because he seemed to be the most reasonable of the three, and to have a clear intelligence. Of Salome I was distinctly supsicious. Elijah and I had a long conversation…..’

The central figure in many of Jung’s Active Imaginations – a wise old man called Philemon with whom he had frequent dialogues.

Many Different Ways

Not all clients have such vivid experiences however. There are many other ways of doing Active Imagination including painting and working with a sandtray. In my practice room I provide the opportunity to use a sandtray for those who are drawn to it.

I also find that active imagination is a wonderful way of working with dreams. By assisting you to enter back into the dream and dialoguing with the characters you find there you can receive powerful experiences of healing which have the capacity to change the relationship between you and your unconscious complexes in a way which is truly transformative.

My work with Active Imagination has been assisted enormously by learning the techniques of Focusing and Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS).