Working with Symptoms

Of the expanding applications of Embodied Imagination®, the development of symptom work has shown to be most valuable. It can be effectively applied to a whole range of physical health issue; for example pain prior to or following surgery and chronic or persistent conditions such as ulcerative colitis, arthritis, cancers and many more.

Symptoms can be worked with in a number of ways, either directly or by invoking an embodied reaction to a situation. Several symptoms may be worked with or just one equally effectively. Often symptom work begins with either the symptom or memory of a time when it was strong/or recent and then incubating dreams from this. Symptoms are explored one by one (if there is more than one) in the hypnagogic state – the state between waking and sleeping. First a symptom is felt acutely, then the person’s awareness is turned into the size of a pinprick so as to imaginatively enter the ‘world’ of the symptom. That environment is explored to discover its colours, textures, and movement or otherwise, as well as the general atmosphere. Any distinctive feature of this new environment is similarly explored prompting the emergence of new awareness.

Creating a safe place at the outset, careful questioning, choosing images and locations to explore and conducting the work at a very slow pace are essential to working with symptoms.

Effects of EI techniques on chronic pain

Ruth* was a normally active woman in her fifties who was suffering prolonged pain in her left knee which considerably curtailed her tolerance for exercise and even for walking medium distances. She was expecting to undergo corrective surgery in a month or two but was keen to find some relief in the meantime. When Ruth entered the pain environment there was a sense of grinding bones and the redness of inflammation. Exploring further to enter an area of bone, going deep within, produced a surprising new sense of location – a green and lush rainforest, a place of softness, humidity and abundant growth. Quite the opposite of the dry, harsh pain filled location. From here, a sense of compassion emerged along with calmness and patience; contrasting with her earlier frustration and impatience for the pain to be gone. This became a resource to be drawn upon in times of pain, discomfort or frustration and added a new dimension to Ruth’s way of being in her life. *Ruth is not her real name.

Horse Man is in his forties and suffers chronic pain. When asked to rate his pain on a scale from one to ten he says it is somewhere between seven and eight. He lives constantly with this pain. It ruins his life. Now we begin to apply the Embodied Imagination® (EI) method.

His safe memory is from a time when he was a teenager in the country. He lived on a farm where he would go horseback riding with his parents. He tells me that his favourite memory of his youth was the time when a new highway was being constructed nearby and remained in an unfinished condition for some time. It was a long, straight stretch, perfect for galloping. While he is in the hypnagogic state, I guide him back into this memory. Feeling himself galloping away on his horse, he reports a significant pain reduction. From seven or eight to four or five. Then I help him focus on the horse. With his legs around the horse (he is riding bare-back), he can feel the horse’s breath, muscles, and power as he surges forward. He can sense the horse’s joy at being able to run at full speed. He feels the powerful thrust of the horse—the rhythm of the front legs, the enormous power of the hind quarters—and suddenly he is fully identified with the horse.


He senses the world from the point of view of the galloping horse. The horse has taken complete possession of his awareness while he remains in simultaneous dual consciousness, knowing that he is in a room with me doing an experiment. When asked about his chronic pain while he is still fully identifying with the horse, he reports no pain. Zero. I help him to stay in this identification for some time—about four minutes. He then practices it when at home. In a follow-up call, he reports that the pain reduction has lasted for well over a month.

This experiment took less than twenty minutes. Six other participants in this preliminary pilot reported similar experiences of pain relief when identified with a non-self-state in a safe memory.

(Robert Bosnak)