Imagination: An Essential Therapeutic Tool? A Christian and Scientific Evaluation

An Essential Therapeutic Tool?

A Christian and Scientific Evaluation

By Grantley Morris

The ability to imagine is a God-given gift without which we humans would be appallingly handicapped. Imagination is so much a part of our divinely-created being that it impacts us on so many levels.

If it were only essential for creativity, planning and motivation, imagination would be critically important for human endeavor. Our dependence upon this priceless gift, however, extends way beyond that. To be stripped of just one aspect of imagination – the ability to accurately imagine what it would be like to be in someone else’s circumstances – would render us so cold-hearted and so out of touch with the rest of humanity and devoid of empathy and divine compassion that we would be reduced to something akin to a sociopath.

Obviously, withdrawing inward and imagining being in a safe, serene environment will significantly reduce stress and anxiety. On the other extreme, but with a similar end-result, for decades psychologist have been curing people’s fears by encouraging people to relax while they deliberately imagine being in situation they would normally find scary.

Citing scientific research, Wikipedia states, “. . . mental imagery has been shown to play a key role in contributing to, exacerbating, or intensifying the experience and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compulsive cravings, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, spastic hemiplegia, incapacitation following a stroke or cerebrovascular accident, restricted cognitive function and motor control due to multiple sclerosis, social anxiety or phobia, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], and depression.” If certain mental images can have such a negative impact, replacing them with more positive mental images might be presumed to significantly help these people. The article, in fact, goes on to cite studies that confirm this.

For anyone with Dissociative Identity Disorder, however, the therapeutic benefits of imagination can stretch far beyond this. All alters who remain inside and have little interaction with the real world live in an imaginary world. Tragically, until they receive help from an outside source or from alters experienced with the outside world, their imaginary world often keeps them needlessly traumatized. Because they are unaware of the passage of time, for example, many imagine the body they live in is still that of a small, weak, vulnerable child. In many alters’ imaginary world, their former abusers still have access to them when, in reality, these dangers are actually long gone. It is not unusual for some alters to think they are not even human and to imagine this so strongly that they are convinced they are animals or some such thing. For a few (and this applied to some of Lilly’s alters), their imaginary world is even a place where they are tortured by other alters.

Like it or not, until inside alters have gained all the healing and maturity and knowledge needed to live exclusively in the external world of adults, they will live in what, to some extent at least, is an imaginary world, This being so, we should endeavor to make that world a safe, fun place that facilities healing.

Not only is an oppressive inner world the enemy of healing, even a boring one hinders healing. Inside alters need a mentally stimulating and fulfilling environment that promotes emotional well-being and intellectual development.

Fun – in tragically short supply in the life of a traumatized child – is very healing, and play is critically important in healthy child development. Adult responsibilities combine with lack of privacy, however, to severely limit opportunities in the outside world for little alters in an adult’s body to engage in the sort of play that children need. Playing in the privacy of one’s imagination overcomes this serious restriction. Moreover, imagination (make-believe) is a significant component in child’s play.

Using the imagination comes naturally to many inside alters. It is hosts – alters who spend most of their time relating to the real world rather than an imaginary one – who are more likely to question using the imagination to make life easier for inside alters.

Guided imagery is a term that makes me recoil because my mind leaps insanely to a term we should rightly recoil from: spirit guides. If it were only demons and not ourselves or the Spirit (given to guide us into all truth – John 16:13) who can guide our imagination, however, something would be disturbingly amiss. Imagination is safe or dangerous, depending on who does the guiding. Some Christians speak of using their sanctified imagination. The bottom line is that we can no more stop imagining than we can stop being human. To do nothing to guide our imagining is to leave it open to undesirable influences.

Now let’s approach the matter of imagination from another angle: having alters means that one’s brain has become compartmentalized. It is a fully functional brain riddled with no-go areas, like a city where many streets have bogus No Entry signs on them, which drivers needlessly obey because no one even imagines they could be fake. This makes reconnecting parts of the brain a major goal of healing from Dissociative Identity Disorder. Imagination is a powerful way of giving oneself permission to access memories/parts of one’s brain that were previously considered off-limits. Using one’s imagination as a tool for the creation/strengthening of neural pathways (and so reconnecting the brain) is neither fanciful nor flaky but has a strong scientific basis.


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Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2016. For much more by the same author, see   No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.