NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, April 10, 2020

Using Your Imagination: How Imaginal Interweaves Help to Overcome Trauma - Part 1

I realize that during times of crisis, like the current pandemic or the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, there are certain songs that repeat in my mind (see my article: Remembering Your Strengths as a Way to Cope in a Crisis).

Trauma and the Imagination

One of those songs is "Imagine" by former Beatle, John Lennon, which was released in 1971 during the Vietnam war as part of the peace movement (see lyrics).

Almost 50 years later, "Imagine" continues to be an inspiring symbol of the pursuit of peace and a symbol of hope.

Whenever I have a song that repeats in my mind, I get curious about why I'm thinking about this particular song and what my unconscious mind is trying to tell me (see my article: Undoing Aloneness: The Client's and Therapist's Parallel Experience During a Crisis).

So, as I thought and I realized that during times of uncertainty imagination plays such a powerful role in both a positive and negative way, and "Imagine" is call for us to use our imagination to create a better world in terms of how we think and behave (see my article: Using Imagery as a Powerful Tool).

Uncertainty and Negative Imagination
The current discussions about "the new normal" are reminiscent of 9/11 and the loss of innocence, among other things, that we experienced after our country was attacked.

There's something jarring about the words "the new normal" at this point in time when people are still grappling with their fear, anxiety, grief for the losses, and social deprivation (see my article: Grieving Losses and Healing During a Crisis).

Coping with uncertainty often leads to negative imagination where people can only imagine the worst case scenario. And, when we understand that the brain is hardwired to anticipate danger in order to stay alive, it's easy to see why negative imagination can be so important as well as overwhelming.

So, let's not underestimate the value of being vigilant and negative imagination in anticipating danger.  If early cavemen and cavewomen weren't vigilant about danger, they might just as easily walk into the cave with the bear, instead of their home cave, with disastrous results.

So, anticipating danger is important and so is accepting your negative emotions.  But when negative imagination goes into overdrive, people often lose their perspective and the ability to anticipate anything that is good and positive.

Balancing Overwhelming Negativity By Using Positive Imagination to Cope: Imaginal Interweaves
Your creative imagination is powerful--regardless of whether you dwell on positive or negative scenarios (see my article: Empowering Yourself During the COVID-19 Crisis).

Let me be clear that I'm not advocating being positive all the time and ignoring what's negative.  That would be impractical, at best, and dangerous at worst.  Be prepared, cautious and follow the health experts recommendations are necessary for staying healthy (see my article: All Emotions Are Welcome Here).

Rather than being impractical or Pollyannish, I'm encouraging you to use positive imagination as a coping strategy to counteract many of the negative scenarios that might be going through your mind.

In Dr. Laurel Parnell's Attachment Focused model of EMDR therapy, which is a trauma therapy, she uses "imaginal interweaves" as a way of helping clients to develop the necessary internal resources to cope with working on the trauma (see my article: Empowering Clients in Therapy).

Using imaginal interweaves is a way of "interweaving" positive, powerful, nurturing, and wise figures into the therapeutic work.

An imaginal interweave can be imagining people you know in real life or characters from a movie, book, TV program (or iconic figures that you might know about but don't know personally) to imagine drawing upon the qualities that they have.

In Laurel Parnell's model, imaginal interweaves are people who have one or all of the following qualities:
  • Powerful
  • Nurturing
  • Wise
  • Examples of Imaginal Interweaves:
    • Powerful: Your favorite superhero, a person you know and admire who overcame adversity, a character from a movie like Atticus Finch from "To Kill a Mockingbird" or whoever feel powerful to you ("powerful" is whatever it means to you).
    • Nurturing: A close friend, a loved one, a mentor, a coach, a favorite aunt, or a character from a TV program
    • Wise: Your favorite teacher or mentor, a wise uncle, a friend, a spiritual leader, Dumbledore from Harry Potter
As I discussed in an earlier article about imaginal interweaves, most of the time, interweaves are used in trauma therapy when clients get stuck while processing a traumatic memory.

But imaginal interweaves can also be used whenever you feel you need to empower yourself, including the current pandemic crisis.
  • Imaginal interweaves help to: 
    • integrate memory networks
    • differentiate memory networks
    • provide a creative and coherent narrative
    • create a broader perspective
    • provide a counterbalance to negative imagination
In My Next Article:
Using positive imagination to cope is a big topic, and one blog article isn't enough to cover it sufficiently, so I'll continue this discussion in my next article (see Part 2 of this topic).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're feeling emotionally overwhelmed, you're not alone.  

Fear, anxiety and grief are all common reactions to the current crisis.

Many therapists, including me, are using online therapy (also known as teletherapy, telemental health and telehealth) to help clients during the current crisis when clients cannot be seen in person (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy).

Rather than struggling on your own, getting help from a licensed psychotherapist can make all the difference between feeling overwhelmed and having a sense of well-being (see my article: The Importance of Getting Emotional Support During a Crisis).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing therapist and Sex Therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I am currently providing online therapy while I'm out of the office.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.