Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Creative and Work-related Processes
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Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Creative and Work-related Processes

Valerie Thomas

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Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Creative and Work-related Processes

Valerie Thomas

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In Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Creative and Work-Related Processes, Valerie Thomas explores the productive use of mental imagery skills to engage with the processes of creativity. Practical and original, the book offers detailed guidance for a highly effective method that can provide rich insights into the development of a range of creative enterprises, including artistic and work-related projects.

In this accessible and innovative book, Thomas pays equal attention to the theory and application of mental imagery. First, she explains how imagination-based methods have been developed and theorised within the discipline of creative behaviour, especially with regard to dual-processing theories of creativity. The book then considers mental imagery as a dialogical method informed by contemporary post-Cartesian theories of embodied cognition that reprise an earlier premodern understanding of imagination as a mediator between body and mind. Thomas introduces a particular approach to mental imagery that, informed by a functional research-informed framework (the Interactive Communicative model of mental imagery), can be applied very effectively to creative processes. The second half of the book provides detailed guidance on how to apply this particular method and is copiously illustrated with case vignettes. It includes chapters on using imagery theorised as conceptual metaphors such as the plant image for representing creative capabilities and the building image for representing creative and work-related projects. It also explains how to use imagery to represent and work with the conceptual processes of undertaking qualitative research projects.

This original and wide-ranging book advances the scope and use of creative image-work in diverse settings. It will be an essential resource for everyone who is interested in developing their own mental imagery skills for creative real-world applications andfor all professionals such as coaches, therapists and research educators who want to facilitate creativity in others.

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Chapter 1


An increasingly urgent call to creativity can be heard. It is described as the new requirement, replacing the ability to manage information as the most important skill humans need to cultivate in order to survive and thrive in rapidly changing times. But the term ‘creativity’ itself is abstract – how can we become more creative? Over recent decades, the repertoire of various different methods, techniques and approaches for enhancing creativity has grown exponentially. At a practical level, this book is intended to provide a guide for applying a metaphoric mental imagery method to enhance creative and work-related processes. This type of method which evolved out of psychotherapy can foster deep insights into creative expression and enhance the processes involved in bringing creative projects into being. However, there is another broader aim: This book will be making a case that it is time to move on from the use of mental imagery as merely a technique or procedure. Mental imagery has the potential to make a much more significant contribution to creativity. This book places this method in a much broader historical and cultural context and argues that changes in the way we view the mind have profound implications for imagination-based methods more generally. Contemporary understanding of the embodied nature of the mind would support a more fundamental role for the imagination in cognition. On this basis, I propose that imagination-based methods are better re-conceived as practices. Once this move is made, using mental imagery to enhance creative processes should become a significant subject of study and research interest in its own right.

The premise

The basic premise is simple and reasonably well-established: mental imagery offers a means of communication between the two radically different modes of awareness implicated in creative processes (these two modes were originally understood to be the conscious and unconscious aspects of the mind, but newer terms for this pairing, in particular, ‘conceptual’ and ‘experiential’, reflect more recent developments in our understanding of the nature of cognition). Using the language of mental imagery can make this dialogue operating between the conceptual and experiential modes more accessible. Consequently, this type of imagistic thinking can offer an effective means of engaging with the processes operating in creativity. Mental imagery techniques especially for the purposes of problem solving and generating new ideas have been part of the repertoire of imagination-based techniques in the field of creative behaviour for many years (Vernon et al., 2016). However, such techniques focusing on cognitive operations represent just one type of imagery application; other types such as phenomenologically informed methods address wider dimensions of the creative process (Nelson & Rawlings, 2007). The study and practice of mental imagery for enhancing creative processes would benefit from drawing widely on the research, knowledge and theory from different disciplines and fields of study. A broad-based mental imagery practice such as the one advocated in this book could bridge the empirical–phenomenological divide and be able to provide a more substantial contribution to the important task of enhancing creative processes.

Why is it important to develop the use of mental imagery now?

There are two main reasons. First there are wider changes in the collective as we move from a Cartesian view of the mind as disembodied to a post Cartesian paradigm of embodied or situated cognition. This shift has profound implications for the way in which we understand the faculty of imagination and by association mental imagery. In summary, in the premodern world, imagination was viewed as both mental and physiological (McMahon, 1976); after Descartes, imagination was situated in the mind (McMahon and Hastrup, 1980). Thenceforth, imagination, outside its ‘proper’ place, that is, the arts, was regarded as a primitive type of thinking. It lost its place as a bridge between body and mind and became conflated with illusion. The new paradigm of embodied and situated cognition with its understanding of intelligence as distributed through brain and body reprises the original premodern role of imagination (Claxton, 2015). In other words, imagination occupies a place halfway between body and mind. Embodied cognition approaches to language (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003) are particularly relevant to mental imagery. The understanding that our most fundamental cognitive processes are metaphorically structured lends support to the way that metaphoric imagery, in particular, allows access to deeper levels of perception and experience.
In tandem with this paradigmatic shift is an increasing interest in and research into imagistic thinking. The work done across different disciplines and fields of study is arriving at a similar conclusion, ‘that imagery plays a functional role in all cognitive events’ (Pearson et al., 2015, p.600). Pearson and colleagues go on to add that, ‘It is exciting to begin to see the detailed, ubiquitous, and multifaceted role imagery plays in our everyday lives, both in function and dysfunction.’ The ubiquitous nature of imagistic thinking is supported by Clement’s (2008) seminal research programme into the way that scientists develop creative concepts; the findings show that by far the most substantial proportion of their thinking processes is imagistic rather than being conducted through higher level formal reasoning.

The mental imagery method presented in this book

The method presented in this book is the formulation of many years’ work with mental imagery, first as a therapeutic application and latterly as a means of enhancing creative processes. It is an example of a method that has evolved in a unique way and, in common with other practices/theories with a particular interest in mental imagery, it has its own idiosyncratic features. It is not presented as a fully worked-out approach but more as a source of guidance to inform a productive practice. It has been shaped by my own background and areas of clinical professional and personal experience.
The method has its origins in the field of talking therapies. This starting position is not unusual – there has been a long tradition of psychotherapy concerning itself with people’s creativity. Psychoanalysis has been used to help people experiencing difficulties in creative expression (see Milner’s [2010] classic example of analysing a creative block in her book titled On Not Being Able to Paint). Humanistic approaches such as Gestalt place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of freeing up the client’s creative expression (Spagnuolo-Lobb & Amendt-Lyon, 2003). In my own case, I have been strongly influenced by Carl Jung’s pioneering work with imagery and symbols particularly his method of active imagination (Chodorow, 1997). Over time my practice broadened out and integrated some of the more interactive approaches of Gestalt and imagery re-scripting from contemporary Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The former influences show up in the method’s focus on the use of metaphoric/symbolic imagery, the latter influences can be seen in the use of directive re-scripting interventions (Hackmann et al., 2011). This increasing push towards integration has had a profound effect on my understanding of the application in practice. The findings from my doctoral research study allowed me to articulate a functional model of mental imagery no longer tied to particular schools of thought on the nature of the self and therapeutic processes (all of this is dealt with in detail in Chapter 2).
This method’s particular developmental trajectory has inevitably shaped the way in which creative processes are viewed. In particular, its psychotherapeutic roots mean that the person is understood to be inextricably implicated in their creative expression. This view will be evident in the many case vignettes which illustrate how people are using the imagery to identify repressed personal material and inner dysfunctional dynamics or attitudes that are interfering with their creative self-expression. However, the method is also informed by a functional perspective on imagery (see the detailed explanation given in Chapter 2) and this widens the scope of its application. The method can also provide a view into the processes of internally modelling creative concepts (see the examples of students working with imagistic representations of their research projects).
The integration that happened across different therapeutic models and perspectives has resulted in a functional framework that honours both the conceptual and experiential dimensions of the self equally. This balance gives it greater scope than methods that are usually anchored one side or the other of this rift that has characterised the applications of mental imagery. Furthermore, its position is consonant with recent developments in theorising within creative behaviour that is starting to focus in earnest on the importance of shifting modes between two different types of processing (Sowden et al., 2015).

The aims and audience for this book

This book has three main aims.
The primary aim is to provide a resource for practitioners and individuals who want to develop their use of imagination-based procedures to support the development of creative and work-related projects. The intention is to explain a particular type of mental imagery approach and lay out some clear and detailed guidance for three procedures that can be used to focus on particular dimensions of creativity and/or work-related creative processes.
The second aim is to make a case for approaching the application of mental imagery as an ongoing practice rather than viewing it as a technique.
The third aim is more general. The intention is to stimulate more study of and research into the use of mental imagery as a means of enhancing creative processes. In addition, it is hoped that this book will encourage other practitioners to build on the work presented and develop further applications.
Due to my background and the particular contexts in which I have developed this method, I write this book for both general and specific audiences. In terms of the former, a significant audience would be professionals who are involved with facilitating personal development and creative expression in others. This audience would include: talking therapists and coaches whose clients bring issues connected with their own creative enterprises and creative blocks; and educators working in counselling, creative arts and qualitative research. Another significant general audience comprises professionals and individuals who are interested in developing a practice that supports their creative work. This category would also include individuals with experience in psychotherapy/self-development who are interested in finding ways of increasing their awareness of the processes involved in work-related projects.
In terms of more specific audiences, one group would be academics, researchers and theorists who are involved in developing approaches for enhancing creativity.
And, finally, there is a particular audience of qualitative researchers who are interested in developing an imagination-based practice as a means of accessing the tacit dimensions of the research process.

The scope of the book

The scope of the book is mainly constrained by how its subject, that is, the mental imagery method, was developed and the decisions I have made as I set out to position the method in the wider field of theory and research. The method was developed originally within the discipline of psychotherapy. The presentation of the method’s development stays close to its use in talking therapies and this means that the focus throughout is on internal mental imagery. I am not including any significant discussion of visual imagery expressed externally in a concrete form because it lies outside my clinical expertise. Therefore, the contributions that art psychotherapy can make to understanding imagination-based practices and methods for enhancing creative processes lie outside the scope of this book.
The method presented here comprises three particular mental imagery procedures which were refined out of my own experience in different contexts. This means that the book is inevitably limited by my own idiosyncratic predilections and opportunities for experimentation. Furthermore, for the time being, the evidence for their effectiveness remains anecdotal. Admittedly, there is a risk of presenting the work at an early stage of development. However, in my defence, it is a common practice in psychotherapy for new methods to be developed within a clinical setting and then researched at a later stage. I am following this well-established practice in the hope that researchers may take up the challenge of inquiring into its effectiveness.
There are also limitations arising out of the journey that I took outside the more narrow confines of my original discipline. In order to understand how to position this practice with mental imagery, I needed to step outside the field of my own expertise. There are dangers inherent in such an enterprise. I have drawn heavily on various experts in the relevant fields, summarising their work in places and referring readers on to the experts where ever possible. Any mistakes in writing about these areas are mine. In the final analysis, I have attempted to synthesise a position for this mental imagery practice, and this position is informed by several disciplines. It is also important to note that I am not addressing in any depth the research into the neural correlates for imagistic thinking. I will be referring readers wherever possible on to relevant sources of knowledge in these domains. It is established unequivocally now that there are neural correlates for imagination but the detail is not worked out (Rees & Frith, 2017). Any attempt to deal in detail with current knowledge would rapidly make this book out of date.

A note on terms and conventions

I have attempted to select the best generic terms for the two radically different modes of awareness that are deemed to be i...


  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Table of Contents
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. Preface
  8. 1 Introduction
  9. 2 How the method was developed
  10. 3 Creativity: the broader context
  11. 4 Understanding creativity as a dialogical process
  12. 5 Mental imagery and creativity
  13. 6 Viewing the mental imagery method from broader theoretical perspectives
  14. 7 Applying the mental imagery method to practice
  15. 8 Using mental imagery to represent and work with the creative capabilities of the self
  16. 9 Using the mental imagery method for the process of developing creative and work-related projects
  17. 10 Using the mental imagery method in a research practice context
  18. 11 Further thoughts on the mental imagery method as a stand-alone practice
  19. 12 Conclusion
  20. Appendix
  21. Index
Zitierstile fĂŒr Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Creative and Work-related Processes

APA 6 Citation

Thomas, V. (2019). Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Creative and Work-related Processes (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2019)

Chicago Citation

Thomas, Valerie. (2019) 2019. Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Creative and Work-Related Processes. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.

Harvard Citation

Thomas, V. (2019) Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Creative and Work-related Processes. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Thomas, Valerie. Using Mental Imagery to Enhance Creative and Work-Related Processes. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2019. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.