When Susan arrived for her first counseling session, I was struck by her almost fairy-like beauty. With dark hair, creamy fair skin, and crystal green eyes, she reminded me of Snow White. At the time of our meeting, Susan was a 28-year-old PhD student studying philosophy and ethics. Not long before, she had discovered a mole while taking a shower. Susan had been going to tanning salons since she was 20. By the time she was 23, she was addicted to looking and feeling “sun-kissed”. By then she was working at the tanning salon to help pay for her own treatments. For nearly two years, she was tanning every other day.
The mole turned out to be diagnosed as malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. “I didn’t even know what ‘melanoma’ meant,” she admitted to me. “When I found out the results, I was all alone at home and started to panic. I thought I was going to die.”
Fortunately, Susan had discovered the mole in time and the cancer was treatable. The dermatologist was certain that her fair skin combined with regular exposure to UV radiation was the cause of her cancer. Part of our journey together was to discover what issues lay under the surface (of her skin—so to speak).
Our skin is our primary layer of protection in the world – our physical boundary to what we experience around us every day. What connection might her cancer have with her personal boundaries? And what was she actually seeking in the tanning salon? Susan and I met regularly for 15 months, exploring these questions along with other presenting issues.
It’s unfortunate that during this time the Imagery Toolbox (in English) didn’t exist. Created by Jan Taal and his associates at the Amsterdam School for Imagery in the Netherlands, this beautifully packaged box of resources is designed to help people use their imagination when facing cancer, chronic illness or other life crises.
The Imagery Toolbox is truly a psychosynthesis gift to our troubled world. Taal and colleagues launched the first Dutch-language edition ten years ago and have continued to improve upon it ever since. This year the Imagery Toolbox became available in English, providing user-friendly tools, techniques, guided meditations, and inspiration to support wellness and inner healing.
Throughout the ages, images and symbolical thought has offered the human race a powerful source of inspiration, healing and inner freedom. Assagioli was one of the most significant scientific writers in the field of therapeutic imagery. Most notably, he viewed the imagination as one of the core psychosynthesis functions that can either happen spontaneously or be governed by the will. Assagioli states that every image has within itself a driving force that tends to translate into an action. When we use our imagination, we are generating creative energy.
What’s in the Imagery Toolbox?
The Imagery Toolbox might more aptly be named an “Imagery Treasure Trove.” Included with its Course Book are: a set of watercolor pencils, brush and sketch book; symbol cards; modelling clay; a notebook, an audio CD with 8 imagery exercises; and a DVD with two inspiring short films. One of the films, Touched by an Angel by Beatrijs Hulskes, is a stunning autobiography of animated images – poetic, whimsical and deeply touching. To watch it Click Here.
All these seemingly simple tools synthesize into a powerful collection of possibilities for the counselor or therapist to offer their clients who might be suffering from illness or in crisis. It is also a perfect gift for anyone you know living through cancer treatment, as the instructions for applying the tools are very straightforward and the materials can be easily used without assistance.
Every chapter in the Imagery Toolbox Course Book is illustrated not only with meaningful testimonies, but also amazing displays of artistic talent and profoundly moving images. The Course Book also has a chapter explaining how family members can use art and imagery to help in the healing process and, if necessary, prepare for the death of their loved one. For example, Melanie and Joris along with their children Iris (11) and Stijn (6) painted Melanie’s coffin before she died.
“Through all the grief the painting provided a kind of positive work feeling. As if you were fixing up the room. At times there were moments of great emotion, but that is just allowed to be there. I drew Melanie in a small boat on the way to the other side. The sun is shining, she waves and is happy because she has left her broken body behind” (Joris, Melanie’s husband)
There is one chapter in the Course Book that outlines how you can best use all the resources in the toolbox over the course of three weeks. At the core of this suggested approach are the two audio CDs. The first CD offers guided imagery exercises that trains you to use your imagination to promote your well-being and healing. The second CD is more focused, providing exercises to engage inner allies, promote self-care of one’s body, relieve pain, and open to the reality of death.
These creative meditations can be very powerful! Perhaps one of the most helpful imaginary exercises Susan and I did during our time together was of her climbing a mountain to meet a Wise and Loving Person. As she imagined her ascent, she needed support – a walking stick and ropes. Upon reaching the mountaintop, she met her friend’s mother who offered her gifts — a book, heart-shaped pillow, teddy bear and worry beads.
Last but not least, special kudos to the 54 evocative photographic images – boxed together as the Symbol Cards. These cards are substantive in size (13x8cm or 5x7in), allowing them to more easily penetrate your imagination. Many are familiar sights in nature, but others are more startling. An array of ship robes, a homemade strawberry-cream tart, barbed wire cutting into a tree trunk. Anyone of the cards can “mobilize your inner resources” as you explore deeper feelings and ultimately your life journey.
Susan recovered from her cancer and eventually became a spokeswoman for the Cancer Society warning of the potential dangers of tanning. Today she is a mother, university professor and well-renown in her field on the ethical uses of technology. She once said, “I think everyone should be doing psychosynthesis. I love the techniques. This work has changed my life.”
The Imagery Toolbox 3.0, €38.50 (approximately US $44).
The Symbol Cards and Course Book can also be order separately.
For any order, Click Here.
You can also download the Course Book for free by clicking here.
Many thanks to Susan (not her real name) for giving me permission to share her story and to Jan Taal for giving me permission to use the images from the Imagery Toolbox Course Book.