“I DON’T have any imagination”, said Anna* at a workshop on anxiety.

Due to the content of her contribution to the workshop, I doubted this and said as much. She was emphatic and repeated firmly: “I don’t have any imagination.” I knew she was a writer and musician, so felt confident in challenging her self belief. Anna revealed that in primary school, a teacher once bent over her desk to look at her writing and said strongly: “you have no imagination.” Anna had carried this statement in her head for decades, despite evidence to the contrary.

Anna came to mind when a friend, Richard*, recently claimed that none of his children’s multiple artistic and creative abilities had come from him. This was blatantly incorrect, as he was a master of DIY, car maintenance and house renovation. But he had interpreted his skills as those of engineering and wasn’t aware that creativity and imagination played a large part in his abilities. Richard also had a history of anxiety-based problems. What is the connection and why is it important?

The imagination is one of our innate resources and wonderful when used positively and productively. But imagination can be misused negatively and unhelpfully, often leading to mental health problems, arising from a poor internal dialogue.

In my therapy practice, the majority of clients with depression and anxiety-based problems were misusing their imaginations and it was my work to discover helpful factual information, rather than listen to unhelpful imaginings.

I would challenge statements that begun: “I knew this would happen”. “They think…”. “It will always…”. “I will never…” Then I could teach a client how to use their imagination more positively to achieve healthier outcomes.

Often, a client would tell me they had no imagination, while it was all too obvious that they did.

I used to enjoy saying to a new client, “I know you are creative, what are your work and pastimes?” Looking at me, as if I was some sort of clairvoyant, they would then recount their skills in music, writing, designing, diy, gardening, cooking, woodwork, acting, painting and craftwork.

The beauty of their answers was it then provided a basis to assist with the presenting problem. Their resources would provide the help they needed.

*Not their real names

Rita Leaman is a psychotherapist and writes as Alison R Russell (chasingbows.org.uk/alisonrussell275.blogspot.co.uk)