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Embodied imagination

Embodied imagination is a therapeutic and creative form of working with dreams and memories pioneered by Dutch Jungian psychoanalyst Robert Bosnak and based on principles first developed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, especially in his work on alchemy, and on the work of American archetypal psychologist James Hillman, who focused on soul as a simultaneous multiplicity of autonomous states.

The technique of embodied imagination takes dreaming as the paradigm for all work with images. While dreaming, everyone experiences dreams as embodied events in time and space; that is, the dreamer is convinced that he or she is experiencing a real event in a real environment. Bosnak describes how a dream "instantaneously presents a total world, so real that you are convinced you are awake. You don't just think so, you know it in the same way you now know you are awake reading this book." So from the perspective of dreaming, the image is a place. Based on this notion, the dreamer can re-enter the landscape of the dream and flash back into its images to more fully and deeply explore and experience them. The dreamer explores the images of the dream while in a hypnagogic state, a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. While in this state, the dreamer is asked a series of questions that help him or her to re-experience the dream by describing details of its landscape and image.

Once fully immersed in the images that the dream environment presents, the dreamer is then also invited to feel and identify the feelings and sensations manifested in the body from a variety of dream perspectives. Perspectives explored are both that of the dream ego as well any "others" that appear in the dream. These "others" may be, for example, another person, an animal, or a physical object. Approaching dream figures in this way is consistent with archetypal psychologist James Hillman's prescription for therapeutic work in regard to the phenomena of psychic multiplicity. Drawing upon Carl Jung's realization that "the ego complex is not the only complex in the psyche," Hillman described the psyche to be not a singular unified whole defined by the ego point of view, but rather a self-organizing multiplicity of autonomous selves. In the technique of embodied imagination, for each of these "selves" or "states" representing various perspectives, the dreamer then feels, identifies, and locates the feelings and sensations in his or her body. At the conclusion of the dreamwork session, the dreamer simultaneously holds in conscious awareness these differentiated and complex states of embodied feeling and sensation. The act of holding these multiple disparate states at the same time creates a psychical tension from which a completely new image or feeling state spontaneously emerges from the dreamer's psyche. This new image or state presents a completely new and previously unknown awareness to the dreamer, one through which the dreamer often feels changed, transformed, or greatly expanded in the ability to embody and feel intensely.

  • Bosnak, Robert. (October 2003). Embodied imagination, Journal of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Volume 39, Number 4.
  • Bosnak, Robert. (2007). Embodiment: Creative imagination in medicine, art and travel. London: Routledge.
  • Bosnak, Robert. (Spring 2006). Sulphur dreaming. Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Volume 74, pp. 91–106.
  • Bromberg, Philip M. (October 2003). On being one's dream: Some reflections on Robert Bosnak's "Embodied imagination." Journal of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Volume 39, Number 4.
  • Corbin, Henry. (1972). Mundus imaginalis, or the Imaginary and the Imaginal (Ruth Horine, Trans.). Spring: An Annual of Archetypal Psychology and Jungian Thought, pp. 1–19.
  • Hillman, James. (1975). Re-visioning psychology. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Schwartz-Salant, Nathan, Ed. (1995). Jung on alchemy, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Sonenberg, Janet. (2003). Dreamwork for actors. London/New York: Routledge.


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