Metaphors and Guided Visualizations that Accelerate the Change Process

The first session I attended while at the TCA Conference was focused on guided visualizations to help a client during their change process. The session emphasized the use of guided visuals to explore the client’s subconscious mind. The idea is based on mental storytelling to learn concepts such as, choice, responsibility, self-control, and letting go.

It was precisely entitled “Learn Five Simple ‘Universal’ Metaphors and Visualizations that Accelerate the Change Process.” Here’s the the thing, the conference was trying to go green this year, so I was sitting in this session sans handout/printed powerpoint, which means I left with 3 “Universal” metaphors. But either way, I have three more than I when I started, so thank you Jennifer Norris-Nielsen (but please send me the powerpoint in email!).

3 (of the remembered) Guided Visualizations

#1 Control Room

This visualization consists of having the student/client envision a control room to their mind and body. Have them explain their control room. What does it look like, what does it sound like, etc. For younger ones, perhaps a drawing will help them (and YOU) better understand what the control looks like. In the control room, the student has control over everything that goes on. They have the ability to go into their control room and shift and tweak things. The key is to remember that THEY are in control. For example, if the child is having problems wetting the bed at night. The parent each night would have the child visit his control room and turn off the potty control. Each night as the child practiced walking into his control room and turning the switch to turn off the potty, he would begin to realize that he had the ability to control when he needed to use the restroom. Here’s another example. Perhaps a student is quite impulsive and talks out more frequently than his classmates. The counselor may have the student visit his control room, turn down his voice knob, and switch on his hand raising button. By teaching the student to visit his control room, the behavior becomes one that the student feels he has some control over. We learn from our mistakes and we check, tweak, and change the controls to make sure our mistakes aren’t repeated. What’s that famous saying? “If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.” Yea, I think that’s it!

#2 Perfect Practice Room

Practice makes permanent, not perfect. Only perfect practice can make perfect. This guided visualization is also known as visual mental rehearsal. I used to do this type of thing in gymnastics all the time. Here’s how it works. Go into your perfect practice room and watch yourself do a task perfectly in your mind. As you begin to practice the task in your mind, the task becomes easier and easier, and much less daunting. The counselor may ask the student, much like the control room, to draw or explain their perfect practice room. The counselor may also prompt the student, “Let’s practice as if you’ve done this 15 times before.” So, here is my real life example. In gymnastics, I would stand up on the balance beam, right before running a tumbling pass, and envision myself performing the pass perfectly. I was so obsessed with the “perfect” part of it that I wouldn’t even take my turn until the pass was completely and utterly perfect in my mind.  Once I could envision myself doing it perfectly, I would do the pass. A school example might consist of a student with test anxiety. The counselor would have the student step into their perfect practice room and envision themselves taking a perfect test. As the student is envisioning the test, the counselor probes to get information about the environment, how the student feels, what the test is like, etc. While the student is still in his perfect practice room, ask the student to reflect on the “What ifs.” What if you get your test back and you got a B and not an A? What if during the test someone gets up to sharpen their pencil? What if you sit down and you feel like your mind if going blank? By practicing each of the “what if” scenarios in their heads, students are able to prepare themselves for many different circumstances that may arise. As a perfectionist myself, I would find it hard to picture myself doing something perfectly knowing that I would inevitably be disappointed when the outcome did not happen the perfect way I had imagined it would. So the “what ifs” prepares students for this type of situation.

#3 Rotten Tomatoes

If someone was throwing iPads at you would you catch them? Well of course you would, especially if they were free. But what if someone was throwing rotten tomatoes at you? Would catch those? Of course you wouldn’t. This is visualization #3. Often times, people are carrying around baggage and unloading it onto “unsuspecting victims.” This is the typical complainer, or in the group counseling sense the “help-rejecting complainer.” It’s that one person who will tell you everything that is wrong with their situation, life, problems, etc and every time you offer a hand of help they have an excuse for not wanting to give it try, for why it won’t work, etc. So, in a sense they are throwing their rotten tomatoes at you. And to sum it up pretty quickly, DON’T CATCH THEM! People unload thinking that they will, in turn, feel better about the situation. This is normally not the case. When you find yourself in this situation, just tell yourself not to catch their rotten tomatoes. These are not your problems, their anger, sadness, impulsivity is not reflecting on something that you did, rather something that they are carrying around with them ready to unload on you. So let those rotten tomatoes hit the floor. Sure you can be a good listener, but don’t hinder their problem-solving abilities by carrying around their load of rotten tomatoes. Use the rotten tomato visual when the phrase, “Let go and let God” enters your mind. There many things we don’t have control over, shouldn’t have control over, and can’t have control over and these are the things we need to just let go of.

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