The Effects Of An Active Imagination On Your Mental Health
By: Nicole Beasley
Updated February 12, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Audrey Kelly, LMFT
When we're children, our imagination knows no bounds. One second, we are pirates sailing through the perilous seas of our bathtub. The next, we are hiding in our indestructible castles built of blankets and sheets. As we get older, however, our creativity levels dwindle significantly. Our daydreams are confined to the limits of reality, and we're told that it is not okay to be imaginative, especially in a playful manner.
While we certainly can get by without our imaginations, having an active imagination holds a special place in psychology, in our mental health, and in our mental development. This article will set out to evaluate and emphasize the importance of the imagination both as a child and in our adulthood.
Imagination And Child Development
You need to look no further than the animal kingdom to see the importance of play in the development of any creature. Play behaviors are hardwired into different species to satisfy their needs for fun and to help them develop a variety of abilities that will improve their chances of survival. Similarly, the imagination and imaginative activities that human children engage in play a crucial role in their development.
- The Imagination Helps Children Build Valuable Social Skills
If you know a thing or two about play therapy, you know the beneficial effects that come with allowing a child to express themselves through pretend situations. Children who play pretend can come up with their worlds and characters, through which they emulate some of the social skills they've observed in the real world and figure out how they apply to any given situation.
These benefits become even greater when children play pretend with other children. This gives them the opportunity to learn about cooperation and compromise with others.
- Imaginative Play Supports Cognitive Development
Through imagined situations, children learn how to problem solve, how to use language, and how the world around them works. Let's say, for example, that you have a child who is pretending that they are working at a restaurant in outer space. Their experience will teach them how they need to talk to the people around them to keep things moving smoothly. It will teach them how a real-life restaurant works when they start researching more about the mechanics of a real dining experience, and it will teach them how to come up with their solutions if something should go wrong in the restaurant.
All these skills are skills that children will be applying to real life as they grow up.
- Pretend Play Often Includes Physical Activity
Children are wonderful at being active, and it doesn't stop when they are playing pretend. Besides the cognitive benefits that come from the imagination, pretend play also gives children the opportunity to become more comfortable with their body and helps them improve necessary functions such as motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Imagination in Adulthood
The problem in this day and age is that we equate imagination with childishness. Although it's logical to think that the need for imagination stops once we've learned the skills that imagination has to offer us, imagination is just as important in adulthood as it is in childhood, especially when it comes to your mental health. Here's why:
- We Still Need These Skills
Skills that we've learned will not just vanish once we stop working on them less frequently. However, skills that we learn can become less accessible if we don't use them constantly. Using your imagination and being creative will keep the skills mentioned above sharpened for continuous use throughout your adult years.
- Imaginative Play Relieves Stress and Improves Relationships
Think back to a time when you played a game or engaged in a creative activity. How did it feel? Did it make you feel smarter, more connected, and removed from the stress of everyday life? Creative activities and imaginative games with others give us the opportunity to recharge our brains, take a much-needed break from our daily stressors, and help us connect with those around us. This is especially true when we do these activities in a work environment.
- The Imagination Keeps Your Mind and Body Energized and Sharp
There's something refreshing and electrifying about doing something creative. It allows us to escape, if only for a brief moment, from life as we know it. It gives us the opportunity to explore new worlds, learn new things about our world as well as ourselves, and puts us in touch with that childlike part of ourselves. Imaginative play keeps us on our toes, mentally and physically.
- The Term "Active Imagination" Is Just Another Way to Say "Visualization"
I think there is a stigma attached to the word "imagination." When we think of the word imagination, we don't conjure up visions of success and abundance in our lives. Instead, we most likely think about people who are extremely creative but whose lives didn't go according to play.
One way that society has managed to work around this is by turning the word "imagination" into "visualization." When we hear the word visualization, we think about the self-help industry and the power of attracting what we want simply by imagining that we already have it.
When we visualize what we want, and we know that we want what we visualize, it tells our sub-conscious mind that we are capable of taking what we want out of life. It is essentially the same principle that you see in other aspects of psychology such as "positive thinking" or "positive affirmations. Visualization or imagination helps us to reprogram our way of thinking and therefore, our way of doing.
The Use of Imagination in Psychology
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, some therapists use "play therapy" when attempting to evaluate and assist children who have behavioral or mental health issues. This type of therapy is usually applied to children only and is not very often used in adult cases. For adults, psychologists apply imagination to psychotherapy to achieve the same effects.
Psycho-Imagination Therapy is a type of therapy that, as an article on Welldoing states, provides "a symbolic bridge between our conscious and unconscious thoughts, as a container or a conductor of psychological energies, feelings, and sensations. Ultimately, it gives us a platform for expression, offers a wide array of tools to understand ourselves at greater depth, and when used within therapy, provides us with the chance to consider and reflect upon what could be, what might have been, what was, and what is."
In summary, Psycho-Imagination Therapy helps us to reach within ourselves and address our issues using imagination rather than relying on reality alone.
This type of therapy may be perfect for those who are highly creative and who need help with mental health issues. If you can relate to the above, a great place for you to start receiving help is Betterhelp. BetterHelp is the world's largest e-counseling platform that provides convenient, affordable, and accessible online counseling. To get started with online counseling, click on the link below. It will take you to a short questionnaire that will help you connect with the right online counselor for you!