Imaginal Nurturing is ego state work rooted in attachment
theory and research and is the heart of the Developing
a Secure Self approach. It addresses early deficits through
working directly with needs for and difficulties with nurturing,
intimacy, and autonomy. The client develops a new relationship
with self through connections with the younger parts of
While the Standard EMDR Protocol works beautifully
to resolve traumatic memories (i.e. things that happened that 'shouldn't'
have happened), it does not directly address the attachment
aspects of experience, particularly early experience. It
does not address the things that should have happened that
didn't happen. Our relationships with early caregivers
is the context of our lives as we grow and develop. They have an
enormous impact on who we become as adults. Typically in therapy,
such early deficits are left to be somehow compensated for through
a supportive therapeutic relationship between the therapist and
the adult client.
In Imaginal Nurturing, we work to get to the root of existential
issues, supporting the effectiveness of other therapeutic interventions
and allowing psychotherapy to move forward more quickly. Imaginal
Nurturing, as part of the Developing a Secure Self approach,
complements trauma work beautifully.
What Imaginal Nurturing is
Imaginal Nurturing has been developed for use with adult clients
and is one of three components of the Developing a Secure Self approach:
- the therapeutic relationship recognized as an attachment relationship
- Imaginal Nurturing
- emotional skills development
The goals of Imaginal Nurturing (I-N) include
helping the client to develop a new relationship with self
in the present and to facilitate the integration
of child and adult ego states. It entails the use of guided
imagery with very slow and gentle bilateral stimulation
and has been developed specifically to enable the client to achieve
emotional and somatic experiences of both nurturing and being nurtured,
and experiences of connectedness. Inspiration-Based I-N
works with the metaphor of the infant self to allow the
client to meet her or himself afresh without the layers of history
which can muddy self-perception. This approach addresses existential
issues and thus challenges the belief that the client is inherently
defective or undeserving. In Memory-Based I-N,
the 'child' may be imaginally brought out of a memory into the present
to connect with the adult, or the client may simply begin with the
image of the 'child' at a given age. Exploration Imagery
goes a step beyond this and entails the 'child' moving away from
the Secure Base (adult) to explore, and then return to the adult.
This is experienced both from the perspectives of the child and
I-N is not limited to the actual imagery work. A critical aspect
of this approach is the between-sessions 'honouring'
activities and checking-within through which the client consolidates
and further develops the new relationship with self, and strengthens
emotional skills. Imaginal Nurturing can be adapted for work with
children and teens.
Imaginal Nurturing is not intended to be used as a single intervention.
It is an approach to be woven throughout the therapy.
It can be challenging work, and can be very satisfying and productive.
The relationships developed with the young parts of self and both
the adult client and the therapist are not limited
to the I-N guided imagery. These relationships stay central to the
therapy as a whole, since after all, it is for the most part, the
younger parts of self who are needing healing.
Who can benefit
I find that the vast majority of my clients benefit from Imaginal
Nurturing. The exceptions are clients suffering from single-incident
traumas with no earlier associated trauma and with secure relationships
in childhood. These clients just don't have the need for I-N. I
see such a client about every year or two. At the same time, I have
had clients who have had a relatively secure childhood for whom
Imaginal Nurturing has zeroed in on the core concern resulting in
a resolution of a significant presenting problem in one, two, or
Clients who can especially benefit may have one or more of the
They may suffer from:
- little sense of self
- low self-esteem
- a sense of alienation
- inability to regulate emotions
- affect intolerance
- inability to empathize
- impaired interpersonal relationships.
- anxiety problems (including obsessions and compulsions)
- eating disorders
- a tendency towards dissociation that has left them vulnerable
For one reason or another, the infant/child missed out on the relatively
consistent, loving, attuned presence and responsiveness needed for
Some responses from clinicians
"Thank you, April, you really have made an important contribution
to those who use EMDR!" ~ Pam Caviness, MSW
"Startling progress. What a wonderful session with a client who came in with enormous neglect and self-esteem issues."Carol Seidenwurm, MA, MFT
"It worked beautifully! She was so moved! I think (and she
thought too) that this was maybe one of the only times she ever
had in which she could just FEEL the pleasure of holding and
touching and caressing, without any obstacles. " ~
Carina Mitrani, Clinical Psychologist
"Your material has been applicable to my every client, and
has filled a gap in my resources beautifully. My clients need
a systematic experience/resource for developing a caring attitude
toward themselves--and Imaginal Nurturing is much more effective
than the other forms of resource development I have used for
such thoroughly damaged selves who have never experienced being
loved or comforted." ~
Kate Matista, MS, EdS, LPC
"Thanks for sharing this level of connecting with us. This was
definitely needed and missing." ~ Karen Forte, LCSW, DCSW.
For more information
The handbook Developing a Secure Self:
An Attachment-Based Approach to Adult Psychotherapy includes
an in-depth presentation of Imaginal Nurturing, how it complements
trauma work, how it is related to the therapeutic relationship,
how to address problems that may arise with this method, and how
to incorporate it into therapy as a whole. More information about
the book and the Therapeutic Toolkit is available at the
"handbook and therapeutic toolkit" link in the column
to your left.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of hands by Ian Waymark,
Gabriola, BC (Copyright 2004).
Copyright: April Steele, 2013