Active Imagination and Mental Health
By: Nicole Beasley
Updated August 31, 2021
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 can dwindle. Our daydreams are often more confined to the limits of reality, and we may be told that it is not okay to be imaginative, especially in a playful manner.
While we certainly can get by without our active imagination, having an active imagination holds a special place in psychology, in our mental health, and in our mental development and maintenance. This article will set out to evaluate and emphasize the importance of the active imagination both as a child and in our adulthood.
Active Imagination And Child Development
You need to look no further than the animal kingdom to see the importance of play and an active imagination in the development of many species. 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 active imagination and imaginative activities that human children engage in play a crucial role in their development.
1. The Active 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 their active imagination 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.
2. 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. Their active imagination 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 own solutions if something should go wrong in the restaurant.
All these skills are skills that children can apply to real life as they grow up.
3. 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 active 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.
Active Imagination In Adulthood
In adulthood, it’s not uncommon for someone who has an active imagination to potentially be viewed as childish. 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 using them, or use them less frequently. However, skills that we learn can become less accessible if we don’t use them consistently. Using your active 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 using your active imagination. 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 can be especially true when we do use our active imagination in a work environment.
- The Active Imagination Keeps Your Mind And Body Energized And Sharp
There’s something refreshing and electrifying about doing something creative and using your active imagination. 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 existing world as well as ourselves, and puts us in touch with that childlike part of ourselves. Our active imagination keeps us on our toes, mentally and physically.
- The Term “Active Imagination” Is Just Another Way To Say “Visualization”
There is, at times, a stigma attached to the phrase “active imagination.” When we think of the phrase “active imagination,” we likely 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 are perhaps less conventional. Maybe we think of a “starving artist,” someone very creative and imaginative, yet who is struggling to make ends meet. However, there are many artists out there doing quite well for themselves!
One way that society has managed to work around this is by turning the phrase “active imagination” into “visualization.” When we hear the word “visualization,” we may 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 obtaining what we want out of life. It is essentially the same principle that you see in other aspects of psychology, such as positive thinking and positive affirmations. Visualization, or active imagination, helps us to reprogram our way of thinking and, therefore, our way of doing.
The Use Of Active Imagination In Psychology
As mentioned at the beginning of this 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 can apply imagination to psychotherapy to achieve the same effects.
According to chapter 13 in the Handbook of Therapeutic Imagery Techniques, “The theoretical purpose of using imaginary situations is based not only on how the patient views his world, but also being able, in time, to ‘open up’ the ‘closed system of internal reality’…Psycho-imagination therapy attempts to put the individual, through his own imagery, into a particular situation that would evoke a set of interactions that be useful not only in revealing major problems in the areas of significance in the patient’s life, but that would also permit him to relive experiences.”
In summary, psycho-imagination therapy helps us to reach within ourselves and address our issues using active imagination rather than relying on reality alone.
This type of therapy using active imagination 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.
Online therapy platforms have been found to be just as effective as in-person therapy, with 98% of BetterHelp users making significant progress in their mental health journeys, 96% preferring it to other therapy options, and 100% rating it as convenient. This is compared to 74%, 60%, and 80% of face-to-face therapy users, respectively.
BetterHelp is the world’s largest e-counseling platform that provides convenient, affordable, and accessible online counseling. The ability to have sessions anytime, anywhere so long as you have an internet connection make it readily accessible whether you live far away from traditional in-person therapy offices or have a busy schedule. Continue reading to find reviews of some of our board-certified therapists from people experiencing similar issues.
“I have been working with Bayley for about three months now. During this time my life has had a tremendous amount of change and self-realization. Bayley has supported me with doing the work to heal by offering creative suggestions, mindful thoughts and space to feel seen and heard.”
“I highly recommend and trust Dr. Abney as a therapist/counselor/doctor. Words are not enough to describe how professional and perfect he is. His talent for turning negative thoughts and situations into positive ones in such a unique way, convert weaknesses into strengths, providing the foundations so we can understand, accept, and love our own self and see life in a better perspective. Most of us might find it hard to speak to a therapist/ counselor (at least, I did before finding Dr. Abney!) and he has a magic way to make it so simple. Thanks a million, Dr. Abney!!”
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!
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