Creative Imagination



While studying psychology, anthropology, and religion as an undergraduate at Princeton University (1970-1972), I began to personally experience a profusion of waking dreams. Under the mentorship of professor Henry Reed, I turned to Jung to try to understand this phenomenon, becoming introduced to the practice of active imagination. In my research on waking dreams I became aware of how early European depth psychologists had explored this terrain, long known to other cultures. I began to differentiate between those who welcomed the autonomous unfolding of images, and those who sought to structure and direct experiences of the imaginal. This work led to my undergraduate thesis, Creative Imagination and the Transcendent Function. During this period I began to experience through workshops gestalt therapy, psychodrama, and guided daydreaming in the traditions of Assagioli, Desoille, and Lerner.

The following year—inspired by the work of R. D. Laing at Kingsley Hall in London—I decided to live as a volunteer at Wellmet Project, a residence for young adults who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I also worked as a mental health worker at Cambridge City Hospital (1972-1973). During this year I began Jungian analysis and was introduced to the work of James Hillman, through his book Suicide and the Soul. I was accepted at the Jung Institute in Zurich, hoping to study with Hillman. I also was introduced to Assagioli’s psychosynthesis by Audrey Beste and Nancy Stuart. They generously arranged for me to meet with Assagioli the following year in Florence.

During my year at the Jung Institute (1973-1974), I re-wrote my undergraduate thesis into the book Waking Dreams. I had worked in the dream lab of Stanley Krippner at Maimonides Hospital during the summer of 1969, and he generously invited me to publish my thesis in a series he was editing. At the Jung Institute I was fortunate to attend Hillman’s lectures that became Re-Visioning Psychology, as well as those that became The Dream and the Underworld.  I discuss this early history in a talk below entitled “’A Slow Dilation…A Widening Give and Take with the World.’” Hillman’s radical turn to the imaginal and his privileging of it deeply affected my own work. He offered to publish a chapter of Waking Dreams while I was finishing the book.  This became my first published essay: “Waking Dreams in European Psychotherapy” (1974). At this young age I had little critical insight into the ways that individualism and coloniality affect the practice of psychotherapy, relationships to the imaginal,  conceptions of self, and  theories of human development.

The following year (1974-1975) I studied phenomenological research and phenomenological and existential psychology at Duquesne University under Amedeo Giorgi’s chairmanship. Fred Wertz was my teaching assistant, and Connie Fischer my professor for psychological testing. After receiving my M.A. at Duquesne, and beginning a clinical practice, I began graduate school at Clark University (1976-1982) in developmental and clinical psychology, under Bernard Kaplan. My doctoral dissertation, The Development of Imaginal Dialogues (1982), was re-written into Invisible Guests: The Development of Imaginal Dialogues (1986) . The last section of this book and the essay “Six Approaches to the Image in Art Therapy” (1981) were attempts to share how I was working with images in adult and child therapy respectively.

My clinical work during this period drew from Jungian and archetypal psychologies, as well as object relations theory, particularly Winnicott, Fairbairn, and Guntrip. My internship at Children’s Hospital and the Judge Baker Guidance Center in Boston (1978-1979) cautioned me about the limits of these theories with children whose lives were deeply affected by poverty, racism, and violence. I began to see more clearly the impact of race and social class on Euro-American depth psychological theories in general, and discussions of the imaginal in particular. I begin to address this in my Afterword to Invisible Guests (see below).

There was an assumption in Jung’s work that practice with internal dialogue through active imagination would generalize to proficiency with dialogue more generally, helping a person to open to alternate perspectives and to de-center from fixed egoic perspectives. Slowly I began to understand that this was not always the case. Engagement with the imaginal could also be used as a defense against dialogue across differences with others, providing an interior cocoon. In particular, if one interprets the content of dreams and waking dreams as always having to do with parts of oneself, the pathway between the intrapsychic and the world beyond becomes foreclosed. This became evident to me as I worked with dreams about nuclear war (see next section). In “On ‘holding holy converse’ with the stranger: 
The development of the capacity for dialogue,” the Afterword to the third edition of Invisible Guests (1997), I try to clarify this, and underline the importance of working toward the capacity for dialogue across domains (intrapsychic, interpersonal, and between groups with divisive differences).

As I continued clinical work, I began to understand that imaginal work encouraged an openness to a realm of autonomous experience that was similar to how somatic therapies following Reich opened one to the free flow of bodily experience, to how Freud’s free association opened one to a freer flow of thoughts, and Winnicott’s “play” to the free flow of emotion, thought, and image (see “Depth Psychology and the Liberation of Being”). These methodological approaches are largely understood through an individualistic lens, so that the personal liberation of being is unconnected with wider societal liberation (see section on Critiques and Re-Orientation of Underlying Paradigms in Depth Psychologies: From Individualism and Coloniality to Interdependence and Liberation).

Watkins, M. (1974). Waking dreams in European psychotherapy. Spring 1974. Zurich: Spring Publications, 33-57.

Watkins, M. (1976). Waking dreams. New York: Gordon & Breach Science Publishers.
(Paperback editions: New York: Harper & Row, 1977; Woodstock, CT: Spring Publications, 1983; Human Development Books, 2013).

Watkins, M. (1981). Six approaches to the image in art therapy. Spring 1981. Dallas: Spring Publications.

Watkins, M. (1983). “The characters speak because they want to speak.” Spring 1983.Dallas; Spring Publications.

Watkins, M. (1986). Invisible guests: The development of imaginal dialogues. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press. (Paperback editions, Boston: Sigo Press, 1991; Woodstock, CT: Spring Publication, 1997).  Afterword to Invisible Guests — On Holding Holy Converse with the Stranger (PDF)

Watkins, M. (1997). Six approaches to the image in art therapy. In B. Sells (Ed.), Working with images: The theoretical base of archetypal psychology (pp. 186-207). Woodstock, CT: Spring Publications.

Watkins, M. (2000). Depth psychology and the liberation of being. In R. Brooke (Ed.), Pathways into the Jungian world (pp. 217-233). London: Routledge.

Watkins, M. (2000). On “holding holy converse” with the stranger: 
The development of the capacity for dialogue. Afterword to Third Edition of Invisible guests: The development of imaginal dialogues. Woodstock, CT: Spring Publications.

Watkins, M. (2009). Healing and the half-dream. San Francisco Medicine: Journal of the San Francisco Medical Society, 82(2).

Watkins, M. (2011). “’A Slow Dilation…A Widening Give and Take with the World.’” These Women conference, Institute for Cultural Change. Santa Barbara, CA .