December 13, 2013 – Dr. Paula King
“Everything looks gray and sad.”
“I feel hopeless and all I see is life not working out for me.”
“I imagine myself alone.”
empty inside; there’s only space where I should be.”
“Life has lost all color.”
“Food looks disgusting.”
“Food appears to offer salvation, but nothing helps.”
Seem familiar? If so, then you have been or are currently in the land of depression. These are but a few of the images described to me by those suffering from depression, and unfortunately are images that ultimately strengthen the unwanted symptoms that are part of depression.
Anyone suffering from depression wants to recover and imagine a fulfilling, peaceful and functional life. However, the “how-to” of recovery can be difficult, confusing and bumpy. Current medical wisdom recommends medication as the primary treatment of choice, and for many it is helpful and offers some relief and improvement. However, medication is not without its problems; like unwanted side effects, cost, and a less than stellar reduction in symptoms. The next most researched and recommended treatment is a combination of therapy and medication. Medication alters brain function, making it easier for someone during talk therapy to access a more positive perspective. The person is more able to imagine hopeful scenarios.
While I have no question that the s
tandard treatment of depression is beneficial, I have found in my collaborative work at Healing Horizons that a combination of cognitive therapy, imagery training, acupuncture, homeopathy and body work not only work as well as medication and therapy to help people recover from depression, but also do so without unwanted side effects and with more sustained benefit. My part of the recovery team is to provide cognitive therapy and imagery training. Since less is known about the intentional use of imagery, I will discuss it in a bit more detail.
Imagery is defined as any sensory thought form; this means that visualization is only one type of imagery. In fact, many confused people believe they cannot use imagery if they are unable to see pictures in their mind’s eye. The truth is, you use imagery every day all day. You visualize something; you sense something; you get a feeling; you hear an intuitive knowing inside yourself. These are all ways of imagining!
There are four distinct ways you can use your imagination to free yourself from depression:
1. Passive imagination (intuition): This describes those times your intuition is telling you consciously what it knows at an unconscious level. Often called a “gut feeling” it is when you know something without being able to say exactly how you know it. Intuition helps us choose what is healthy and attempts to alert when unhealthy thoughts, people or behaviors are in place. When something is unhealthy your unconscious tries to get your attention and ask you to think again, to make a different choice. Your intuition wants you to make a choice to be free of depression.
2. Active imagination (performance rehearsal and imaginary practice): Imagery used to rehearse a performance or to create a desires outcome has a dramatic practice effect. Just watch the athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics and you will observe many examples of “rehearsing” in their minds before the actual competition. They are imagining exactly what they want to have happen: the thoughts and movements leading to victory. The following exercise is helpful when you suffer from depression: When awakening in the morning stay in bed for a few extra moments and imagine your day. Imagine the thoughts and behaviors you want to take into each of your daily activities and practice them in your mind. Experience yourself as fully as possible, incorporating each of your senses into the imagery experience. See it, feel it, taste it, touch it, hear it, KNOW IT!
3. Receptive imagery (purposely inviting and listening to the wisdom within): This process is much like when you have a problem on your mind and suddenly something provides you with an answer. Perhaps you find the answer in a book you are reading on a topic unrelated to the problem, or you hold a problem in your mind prior to going to bed and you awaken the next morning to discover the answer fully formed in your mind. The next time you are in conflict over a decision, invite a connection with the inner winsome and invite an image to come to mind that represents the problem and has information about solutions. Listen for whatever notions, ideas, or suggestions are provided and see if they are helpful to the situation at hand. Maintain an attitude of open curiosity and trust.
4. Interactive imagery (inner dialogue): We talk to ourselves constantly during the day. Those dialogues are sometimes fully conscious and sometimes outside of our direct awareness. It is possible to purposely create an inner dialogue that is helpful rather than one that causes havoc or encourages depression. Do this: invite an image to emerge from your unconscious mind that represents a wise and loving inner guide. You can ask this guide questions, listen to the answers and discuss whatever problem you are facing. Do this consistently and watch the supportive relationship that develops with this influential part of you.
At Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions we do not use the term “solutions” lightly, we want to help you solve your depression and see you fully recovered.
That is the image we hold and practice every day with our patients.
GJ Free Press health columnist Dr. Paula King is a licensed psychologist, who also holds certifications as a health coach, a HeartMath® biofeedback practitioner, an interactive imagery guide, and a sport psychologist. She can be reached at Healing Horizons, 970-256-8449.