John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology

The Imagined House Exercise

imaginary house

The house often is a symbol of the self, one's own personality. In this exercise I lead my students through a mental imagery scene in which they explore a house in their imagination. Afterwards, we discuss how the various characteristics of the house may say something about their own personality - similar to dream interpretation. We pay attention to such details as how the house appears on the inside as opposed to the outside, what can and cannot be found inside the house, how one gets into the house, what's inside the "secret" room, colors, textures, how space is experienced, etc. All of these details may have symbolic significance. Students often are amazed at what the imagined house says about them.

This exercise works particularly well along with the Circulating Papers Technique. After we complete the imagery exercise, the students write down and then circulate to other students a description of what they saw in their imagination. The feedback provided by other students often is eye-opening. In fact, I am always impressed by how insightful some students can be.

Here is the narration that I use to guide the students through the imagery scene. I pause between sentences to allow students time to form the image in their imagination:

You are walking down a road.... As you are walking, you see a house. Look at it. Notice its details.... Walk towards it. What do you notice about it?.... You start to walk around the house, looking at it as you walk.... Now you are halfway around. Notice the details of the house as you continue to walk around it.... Now you come back to where you were when you started.... As you walked around the house, you noticed a way to get in. Now go into the house.... What do you see?.... Explore the house, what's inside?.... As you were exploring, you noticed a secret door leading to a secret room. Go inside that room. What do you see?.... Now leave the secret room and go back into the main part of the house.... Now leave the house. As you are walking away from it, you look back at it one more time.... You are back on the road once again, walking.

This exercise also works well for exploring the identity/personality of a small group. After someone leads the group through this imagery scene, the group members discuss what they each visualized. Based on that discussion, the group together then visually "constructs" one house that seems to capture the personality of the group and all of its members. Comparing the houses created by different groups can result in some fascinating insights into the unique personality of each group.

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