The 3 Levels of Imagery: Jan Taal

Imagery is (at) the very core of human existence. It is the central arena of our being where identityand reality are formed. There are three levels of mastery in imagery. At the first level we get to knowour images and start to realize how they influence our existence. At the second we learn how to navigate and cope with our images, resulting in development and transformation of ourselves. This is the level of therapeutic work and personal growth. Ultimately in the third level we may realize to be (or become) the very source of All of it, the mysterious Greater (or Higher) Self.

Imagery – involving all internal senses – is the universal language of the inner life, it’s the medium of our greater energy system. Through imagery we tend to enter into an altered state, a dimension beyond space (3D) and time, that exerts a profound influence on our being. Conscious and unconscious imagination provide the building blocks of existence, the way we experience ourselves and the world around us. As such imagery is universal and has played a central role in all cultures and in all times. In therapy and for personal growth it provides an excellent medium, for each development starts with an image, a psychological law Assagioli wrote about decades ago. Carl Jung added an interesting line to this: when you give attention to an image, it becomes pregnant. In other words : whenever you truly contact an image and come back to it, it will develop and tend to bring its fruit, it will bring you its quality.

To these sayings of Assagioli and Jung another quality of the imagination can be added: in the imagination everything is possible, a characteristic of imagery that is of upmost important and very useful if someone wants to develop a new skill or quality. The imagination provides an excellent field of trying out what one desires to learn and develop. In the end it is off course essential to put images (which are fifth dimensional) into concrete practice in daily life (in 3D and time). For without concretisation imagery might stay at a fantasy level and prevent growth and development.

A broad range of imagery techniques, tactics and in-depths approaches, inclusive expressive methods, were presented and exercised during the seminar.

The main techniques can be summarized as follows:

Theme, problem or challenge – Analysis and diagnosis (what is needed ?)

Perception of the associated image(s) – Approaching and contacting the image (feeling and all inner senses involved)

Dialogue with the image – Identification (becoming the image)

Creative expression of the image*

Insight – Integration in body, mind, feeling and behaviour

Concretisation (utilisation in daily life, private and work) of the new quality or skill

Evaluation of results – and so on . . .

* Creative expression of imagery is particulary useful as it provides action and learning in a safe
environment (the ‘laboratory’ of the session), involves the body and the will and stimulates
integration. At the same time, expression of an image (f.i. a drawing) makes it pregnant, the image
and the process it involves continues and grows.

Creative expression can be of any kind : writing, poetry, drawing, painting, modelling, sculpture,
photography, vocal expression, singing, moving, drama, role-playing, filming, music, gardening and so on. Important is the action not the (artistic) result.

Day one:

A. Imagery from prehistory to the present, a lecture in which the prehistory of imagery, shamanism, traditional amazonian plant healing, mythology and psychoneurology were treated. Examples of prehistoric rockpaintings, mediaeval visions (Hadewijch 12th century), mythology and examples of imagery from fieldwork with illiterate mountainpeople in Pakistan, from students at the Punjab University in Lahore and from clients in the western world were presented.

B. Exercises with symbolic photographs, dialogue and drawing were done and there was a in-depth
demonstration with one of the participants.

Day two:

A. The Imagery Toolkit for coping cancer and other chronic illness was presented. Aim of the toolkit: providing easy-to-do, accessible imagery exercises mobilizing inner strength. A film was shown in which four clients (confronted with cancer) showed their work with the toolkit. For the english version of the film click here:

B. Further exercises were done with the participants, i.c. involving bodily expression and more.

Day three : Imagery in Trauma Treatment.

A ‘protocol’ on how to use imagery in the treatment of trauma was presented, demonstrated and
exercised with participants. The following chapter on this subject was handed out:

Taal, J & Krop, J. Imagery in the treatment of trauma. Published in: Sheikh, A. A. (ed.) Healing Images. The Role of Imagination in Health. 2003 (foreword by the Dalai Lama).


Day four : The practical use of symbolic imagery for personal growth and in psychotherapeutic treatment.

A step-by step format to employ imagery in order to develop a desired skill or quality was exercised with the participants.

1. Reflection and consideration of needed/wanted skills and qualities;
2. Choice of one skill or quality one want to develop;
3. Motivation (the motor of the process);
4. Symbol forming for the desired skill or quality;
5. Internal journey towards and with the symbol, involving approach, obstacles, dialogue,
identification, taking the symbol to the place in life it is needed and more;
6. Creative expression of the place (location, private or work), the symbol and oneself;
7. Preparing concretisation : defining acceptable, realistic implementation (concrete action,
time and place).

Articles in french and italian:

Taal, J. (2004). Assumer le cancer par l’expression créative et l’imagination. Rev Francoph Psycho-
Oncologie. Numéro 1. Cliquez ici pour la version francaise:
Taal, J. (2007). Processi immaginativi e elaborazione del cancro Terapia creativa immaginazione.
RIVISTA DI PSICOSINTESI TERAPEUTICA Anno VIII – N. 16, Settembre. Clicca qui per la versione italiana :
Dutch readers can find Jan’s articles and books on:

Jan Taal (1949) is training-director of the School for Imagery in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and
licensed health psychologist Drs BIG NIP NVPO and licensed primary care psychologist.


This is a summary from a seminar at the EFPP Summer School in Sweden in 2014.