Guided fantasy

 Instead of looking at a picture, one can imagine being in a certain scene and then observe how you react in that situation. Such fantasies reflect expectations and needs inside of you, some conscious and some unconscious. Unquestionably cave people told stories and asked, "What would you do in this situation?" But Max Hammer (1967) described this as a therapy technique several years ago.

 Scenes commonly used by therapists and group leaders include: being in a grassy meadow on a warm spring day, going deep under water in a murky lake, climbing to the top of a high mountain, exploring a strange house or your childhood home, opening the door to a room that contains something very valuable to you, exploring inside your own body trying to find where your mother resides, imagining the layers upon layers that make up your "self," being a three-weeks-old baby and cared for by your parents, discussing a personally significant question with a very wise person, having only three days to live, and on and on.

 Interpretations of all guided fantasies are tentative, very speculative, merely food for thought. For example, how you feel in the meadow may reflect how you respond to being alone, what you find in deep water or the basement is supposed to represent your unconscious, going to the mountains is supposed to represent approaching God, and so on. No one knows what your fantasies mean. No one would doubt that your fantasies show something about your inner most workings.

 Here is my favorite guided fantasy. I've done it hundreds of times. Try it now, as you read it. Relax, get comfortable, allow 15 minutes or so for this exercise. (1) Imagine it is a warm spring day. You are walking in the country where you have never been before. You are on a path leading towards a big forest. The path enters the woods; take it and see what you find there. How do you feel inside the woods? Take a couple of minutes; notice what you do inside the woods. [Pause] (2) You notice that the path takes you along a small stream which flows into a beautiful lake with a fantastic beach. Spend some time at the lake. See what you do. How do you feel? What happens there? [Pause] (3) You continue walking on the path beyond the lake. It goes through farm land with fields on each side. In the grass along the path, you find a bright shiny object. Find out what it is. How do you feel about it? Do something with it so you can continue on. [Pause] (4) Further along the path you approach a house. What kind of house is it? How do you feel about going near a house? What do you do there? [Pause] (5) After walking on the path a long time, you are in a remote area. There are no houses or fields, just scrubby bushes and old logs. All of a sudden there is a bear right in front of you! What does it do? What do you do? How do you feel? What kind of bear is it? What happens? [Pause] You are able to handle the situation with the bear. You feel fine now; the bear has gone away and won't be back. You might want to go on and have more fantasies like those mentioned above. Eventually, when you have finished your imaginary journey, you should imagine going back the same trail--pass the remote area, the house, the shiny object, the lake, and the woods--and then coming back to the here and now.

 What do the unique and specific fantasies you have just had mean? Perhaps nothing. Any interpretations are merely speculations, but there are some interesting possibilities for you to consider. If these suggestions seem ridiculous, that's fine, enjoy the humor in it. But if these ideas seem to "strike a cord," then give it some more thought: (1) Your reactions going into the woods --positive (wonderful and beautiful) or negative (dark and threatening)--may indicate what you expect from life. (2) What you do on the beach may reflect your feelings about sex, e.g. you may get all excited, take off your clothes, jump in, and have a ball or you may abstain thinking the water is dirty, unsafe, or frigid. (3) The bright shiny object represents love, so note if you think it is something precious which you will keep forever or if it is disappointing and you throw it away, like an old rusty hub cap. (4) The house may indicate how materialistic you are (it may be a mansion or an old shack) and your comfort about approaching the house may reflect your trust of others and/or your feelings about family life. (5) How you handle the bear may be similar to how you handle problems or crises in life. For instance, I see a huge bear and run like hell. Foolish as that is, perhaps running is exactly what a person who obsesses with problems (and spends 25 years gathering problem solving methods) would do. Interestingly, some people deny problems by seeing the "bear" as a cute little harmless bear cub. I hope it is obvious that these "interpretations" should not be taken too seriously. Have fun, share your fantasies with others.

 The stories you like and how you respond to a fable or parable says something about you (see the eagle-raised-like-a-chicken story in method #4 above). Malamud (1973) describes this scene: You are in a room which contains a bird cage with a bird in it. The bird is excited and saying something to the cage. What? The cage answers. Listen to the conversation. What are the bird and the cage saying? [Pause] Now, the bird begins to frantically try to get out of the cage. What are they saying? [Pause] Finally, the bird breaks out and flies away. They continue yelling at each other. What are they saying? [Pause] Now, a strange thing happens, the bird flies back into the cage. For the first time, as an observer, you feel like saying something. What do you want to say? [Pause] After you have finished, the bird looks you squarely in the eye and says... [Pause]

 Many of us have been in many cages--a job, a class, a relationship, a family, a handicap, a string of bad luck--and we bring those experiences into this story. Perhaps you are being held captive now and have had little awareness of it, until you projected yourself into the story.

 One more idea about fantasies. For 25 years, Lloyd Silverman and his colleagues have done a large number of experiments which suggest a subliminal stimulus (a drawing and/or a few words) can influence how logically schizophrenics think, how well we perform (throw darts), our sexual orientation, how much patients profit from therapy and so on (Silverman, Lachmann & Milich, 1982). It is especially amazing because the words are presented several times but for only 4 milliseconds each time--which is just a blur of light to our conscious mind. It is also amazing because the words express an unclear and complex thought, "Mommy and I are one." Perhaps most amazing of all, Silverman speculates that this blur of light triggers off specific unconscious fantasies! And it is those supposed fantasies, for which there is no evidence at all (neither awareness nor brain activity), that are assumed to influence our thinking, actions, feeling, etc. Amazing, indeed. In other words, we have fascinating data and one far-out theory but we don't know what is really going on.

 Needless to say, there is much debate about these experiments (see Balay and Shevrin, 1988). What is very clear, however, is that these effects, fascinating as they are, are not "robust," as the scientists say, i.e. the experiments frequently can't be repeated. That's a serious problem. Also, another thing, how many of you have a tachistoscope (an expensive device that flashes images very quickly)? Very few. So, why am I talking about this stuff? Because there are too many findings to dismiss and because the idea of having certain kinds of fantasies to achieve certain results may be useful. Unfortunately, science isn't yet of much use to you on this matter.

 Silverman is trying to prove Freudian theories. Silverman's theory is that "Mommy and I are one" triggers unconscious fantasies, an universal wish to be secure, cared for, loved, and safe with our mothers, perhaps even a fantasy of oneness with her in the sense of being so young that we don't yet know the difference between her and us (called symbiotic fantasy). Furthermore, the theory says that having these unconscious symbiotic fantasies is helpful in almost every way. Silverman called this unconscious merging-with-mother fantasy an "ubiquitous therapeutic agent," meaning it facilitates psychotherapy (and dart throwing!). Maybe. It can't be proven. It would be easier to prove a connection between conscious fantasies and improved performance or feelings. And, maybe, the results would by more powerful, more dependable, more useful.

 Perhaps "Mommy and I are one" presented for 4 milliseconds, i.e. unconsciously, is the only way to arouse symbiotic fantasies...but I doubt it. Perhaps the conscious mind can prompt an unconscious fantasy as well as a too-brief-to-see stimulus. Perhaps the symbiotic fantasy doesn't have to be unconscious. Perhaps a pleasant fantasy of being held and stroked or bathed and fed or nursed and loved would work just as well. Why not try it and see? Scientists: get busy! Straighten this out!

Feedback from others

 It hardly needs to be said that friends, family, co-workers, supervisors, counselors, therapists and others can give you insight into behaviors and attitudes you are not aware of. In chapter 13, there is a method for checking out interpersonal hunches (just ask!). This method will also reveal the impressions you are unknowingly making on others (if others will tell you). Feedback from others may be particularly helpful if they have observed you extensively, e.g. let them read your diary or listen to daily recordings you have made about your problems.

 My personal belief is that an open, frank, and constructively confrontive group, like a good encounter group, a psychodrama (see role-playing in chapter 13), or a mutually helping group, is one of the best ways to get useful feedback. Groups of friends or social groups have to live with you; thus, they will usually avoid telling you the truth, especially the negative feedback.


 The meaning we attach to any event depends on how we see it. If we get a scholarship to MIT, it may mean a wonderful opportunity or that we have to leave our boy/girlfriend. If you over-eat, it may be seen as a bad habit or as a way of reducing anxiety. Many therapies try to change how we think about things. Chapter 14 covers several such conscious methods (also frequently called reframing). This section suggests a way of gaining the help of the internal part of you (perhaps your Child or Parent) which unconsciously causes you to do something you don't want to do or prevents you from doing something you want to do. Bandler and Grinder (1982) called this "reframing;" Mann (1987) called it a "Power Generator;" Virginia Satir, Carl Whitaker and others refer to a related process as "relabeling." This is the procedure:

  1. Have in mind the behavior you desire. Then, attempt to get in touch with the part of you that is responsible for the unwanted behavior or the resistance that interferes with your desired behavior.

  2. Work out a way of communicating with the responsible part, preferably using words but if that isn't possible, bodily signals, like movement of a finger, in response to questions will work. Be kind, patient and respectful to the part, assume that the part has some positive intention. Make a distinction between the behavior, which may be harmful to you, and the intention of the responsible part.

  3. Ask the part what it is trying to do for you. This is the crucial step in reframing. Once the intention is known, ask the part if it would consider achieving its purpose in some other ways. It might be obvious how to achieve this purpose in a better way. If solutions are not easy to come by, ask the part to use its creativity (or to seek help from a creative part of your personality) and come up with alternative ways of achieving its purpose.

  4. When alternatives have been thought of, including continuing to do what you have been, ask the responsible part, the conscious self, and other parts of your personality to agree upon the most acceptable way to cope. Make sure no part objects. The idea is to minimize the resistance from all the parts and maximize the support.

  5. Help the part responsible for the to-be-changed-behavior to plan the desired changes--it must be in full agreement. Establish times and places for the new behavior (have environmental or cognitive "signals" to prompt the new behavior or feelings), and mentally rehearse putting the plan into action. Then, do it!

 Examples: the jealous person may start giving fun-loving attention to his/her lover instead of suspicious, controlling, critical nagging; the over-eater may substitute self-praise for food; the angry person may substitute assertive problem-solving for bitterness, etc.

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