Using guided imagery techniques with emotionally disturbed children has taught me a great deal about the powerful effect of this process for helping children deal with their fears, perceptions, dreams and ideas. And in the process of exploring imagery and images I have made many discoveries...not only about the process but also about children. Indeed, the children are my teachers. It is through them that I learn what works.
It's bedtime-a time when many of us breathe a sigh of relief and snuggle into the comfy depths of our beds, to sleep the fatigue of the day away; to dream; to relax and awake refreshed the next day. The children with whom I work are not glad to see the night close around them. These are severely emotionally disturbed children living in a long-term residential treatment center. They do not look forward to their beds, for this is the time of night terrors, of scary apparitions that remind them of past horrors and fears...many very real, some imaginary. Night is a time of fear, and they fight to keep the night, and the nightmares and monsters at bay. This is my challenge..this is my opportunity to touch the vulnerable Inner Child, and offer him and her respite, rest, and resources for positive growth and enlightened life.
"Can I do the lavender mist tonight?" "It's my turn to hand out the flavorful flowers!" "Did you bring the pink porpoise?" I have found that using concrete objects, things that can stimulate their senses, helps the children make the transitions to imagining and visualizing with their inner eye.
A piece of filmy fabric, pale lavender, maybe treated with a drop or two of lavender oil, creates a lavender mist which wafts over them, providing a breeze to float onÑa tactile, olfactory experience. Sometimes they giggle, because it tickles, and then take the deep breaths which will begin their relaxation. A flavorful flower (preferably small sugarless candies, or jelly bellies) stimulates their taste buds, as I encourage them to choose their flavor, and let it melt in their mouths...and only one, of course, because that makes it special. I always have music to go with my visualizations although this has to be carefully monitored. I am particularly partial to the New Age music for relaxation and guided imagery, but sometimes the children find that music scary, otherworldly. Some of it, of course, is wonderful, and very soothing. The lack of a basic beat offers opportunity for accompaniment on delightful flights. Baroque music, and some program music, and soft jazz are very effective.
One of my favorite props (and the children's) is Pat, the Pink Porpoise. Pat is a beautiful velvety bright pink puppet, who can carry the children into the sea on his/her back. (Pat is either female or male, it doesn't matter. And we called it "Pat" because that's what we do...we pat the Pink Porpoise). Pat is very gentle and the children trust that it will carry them safely through any adventure.
I use other props, too--balloons, bubbles, streamers--anything that will activate the imagination, and help the children to move from the concrete to the abstract, for they are still very concrete in their conceptualizing.
Another discovery I made is that some of the children are not ready for kinesthetic imagery, internalized movement control. They try to lie quietly, visualizing as we take our journeys, but I see their muscles twitching, and know they still need to be actively involved. So, as a preliminary to guided imagery, we often do creative movement imagery, directly moving to the imagery story, thus allowing kinesthetic integration. The children who need to actively participate are not quite developmentally ready for the internalized movement control, but guided imagery can be an aid to transition from one stage to the next. Sometimes I offer active movement imaging, followed by a related internalized guided imagery experience.