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Clinical Meeting: The wise old man

“Close your eyes and make sure you are comfortable and relaxed before we start…. Now, imagine yourself walking, alone, down a busy high street. Suddenly, you see a small side street; you have never noticed it or walked down that street before. You decide to turn into it and half way down you see a shop. In the shop’s window there are objects from different times and different places in the world. As you walk into the shop you start to look at the objects on the shelves. The shop keeper appears and welcomes you, before saying: “this is an unusual shop. Here you cannot use money. Instead, you may take any object you like and in exchange you leave something of your own.” You continue to look around the shop until you find an object you are most drawn to – pay attention to its shape, its smell and texture, its weight in your hand – and think about what you would give the shop keeper in exchange. When you have completed your exchange you leave the shop with the object and head back into the high street”.

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By Molly Wolfe

This was the creative visualisation journey facilitated by art therapist Yafit Nahari, who led September’s clinical meeting. As Yafit explained:

“Creative visualisation in art therapy invites clients to get in touch with their unconscious. The main point in many of these journeys is to tap unacknowledged parts of the person, and become aware of them, such as hidden needs or strengths.”Citing the writings of Jennifer Day, Liesl Silverstone and Natalie Rogers, Yafit uses the technique often in her individual and group work with both children and adults.

 The “shop” exercise, described above, invited us to imagine a scenario where we would be accepting something new into our lives and letting go of something old, something we no longer needed to carry around with us. After the visualisation we were asked to make an image of that object and bring it back to the group. It was a fascinating experience which resonated with all participants; nearly all of us seemed to visualise the shop keeper as a “wise old man”, and the theme of time was a prominent one in the images (without realising, two of us chose an egg timer as the object to take from the shop, leaving behind something which symbolised a different phase in our lives). When the cherished object was chosen, another set of difficulties emerged; was our object, offered in exchange and no longer needed, a worthy exchange? Was it as valuable as the item we desire? Do we go ahead with the exchange at all, or leave the shop as we entered? As past stories and future plans, feelings of loss and of hope were considered in the session, the fairy-tale quality of the exercise ensured the experience remained safe and contained.

For those who are interested in using this method in their clinical work, Yafit points out that some of the images arising from this technique can be powerful and emotional. It is less appropriate for very disturbed clients and should be used by experienced therapists. When done correctly, creative visualisation can lead to enjoyable and worthwhile experiences.

For more information, Yafit recommends the book Art Therapy Exercises: Inspirational and Practical Ideas to Stimulate the Imagination by L. Silverstone.


Posted by Nili Sigal, art therapist &
clinical meetings coordinator

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