Explanations for the therapeutic efficacy of mental imagery

Counselling and psychotherapy schools provide a range of accounts of the therapeutic efficacy of mental imagery that are informed by different theoretical perspectives. However, despite the differences, all these explanations have one thing in common; an acknowledgement that mental images appear to operate consistently and reliably as a communicative bridge between the conscious and nonconscious parts of the mind (generally referred to throughout this book as the rational and imaginal perspectives). This chapter considers how efficacy has been understood, both within the counselling and psychotherapy field and beyond, and discusses how these explanations contribute to more inclusive theory making.

I begin by briefly reviewing the history of Western understanding post-Descartes of the nature of mental imagery that has resulted in two different accounts, i.e. empirical models and phenomenological descriptions; both types are then considered in more detail. I will then go on to consider theoretical approaches that can bridge the divide between the two. This discussion will focus in detail on Ahsen’s (1984) image/somatic/meaning model (ISM) and the theory of conceptual metaphor developed by the cognitive linguists, Lakoff and Johnson (2003).

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