Guided Imagery: A Psychotheraputic Tool for Healing and Transformation

Guided imagery, a therapeutic approach that has had a role in healing traditions for millennia, is increasingly being used in a range of disciplines including medicine, sports performance, leadership and the arts. Imagery has particular relevance for the field of psychology since it is like a Rosetta stone that decodes and translates deep undercurrents at the very center of our lives.

There are many styles of guided imagery, and two of the major ones are called ‘scripted’ and ‘receptive.’ In the first approach, the practitioner directs the client to image a designed scenario, whether it be a relaxing walk on the beach for stress management, or a picture of their younger self, an “inner child,” to rewrite a trauma-based narrative of their early belief system.

Receptive imagery elicits the most personally meaningful images as they arise in the immediacy of moment during the session. The therapist encourages the client, while in a deeply relaxed state, to allow images to form that are descriptive of his or her present state of experience. The images that surface are often surprising but meaningful, as the symbols are explored together, leading to insight and ultimately transformation.

Being receptive to images is quite different from passivity; receptivity has an active component embedded within it. The meaning of receptivity stems from the Latin re-capere – to take back; it suggests the reclaiming of those parts of oneself that have been disowned, forgotten, or covered over, and reconnecting with a fuller scope of one’s potential.

Images are a natural way of processing life experiences – consider how common daydreams and worries are. Learning to navigate, and facilitate deep imagery pathways therapeutically can bring wisdom and healing are to everyone regardless of temperament, culture, age and life experience. Guided imagery is an invaluable tool that mental health practitioners can add to bring depth and creativity to their clinical healing approaches.

John F. Kennedy University offers a certificate program in guided imagery that will allow you to build competence with an interactive-style of imagery that is non-scripted. It can be applied toward individuals, couples, groups and with children, to address a range of topics including complex grief, depression, pain, insomnia and other symptoms, end of life issues, and PTSD.


Leslie Davenport, M.S. LMFT is the founder of the Guided Imagery Certificate Program. She is the author of the classic book Healing and Transformation Through Self-Guided Imagery, and editor of Transformative Imagery: Cultivating the Imagination for Healing, Change and Growth. She is a founding member of the Institute for Health & Healing at California Pacific Medical Center where she ran a hospital-based imagery program for 25 years. Other faculty include Laury Rappaport, Ph,D, author and founder of the Focusing and Expressive Arts Institute, Brian Dietrich, LMFT who brings a strong Jungian flavor to the training, Valerie Hinard, LMFT, who teaches imagery for PTSD and complex grief, and Yasmin Decuire, who applies imagery for depression, and working with children.