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Kaare Claudewitz

Meeting the Inner Animals in Visualization


This article describes a method of guided imagery called the ”Personal Totem Pole Process”(PTPP)
which is a unique blend of Jungian active imagination, the chakra system and ancient shamanism.
The author compares the method to other visualization techniques involving hypnosis and considers
it to be a promising method to access unconscious client material.


Today it is generally accepted that mesmerism is the precursor of modern

hypnotherapy, but what was before mesmerism? The oldest known form of
psychotherapy is shamanism, which goes thousands of years back in time.
The shaman works with the trance state in order to cure both physical and mental
problems. Therefore, shamanism could in fact be called the hidden forefather of
modern hypnotherapy. Some would probably argue that shamanism is just a primitive
form of religion, but that would be a wrong assumption. Shamanism is not a religion,
but a method for inner healing. C. G. Jung even viewed shamanism as the earliest
forerunner of his analytical psychology (Jung, 1972).
In our modern Western civilization shamanism is mostly practised by new age
therapists, but gradually also more serious hypnotherapists have become interested in
some of the shaman’s ancient methods to achieve inner healing and especially in his
way of communicating with the subconscious. In this article I will present a
hypnotherapeutic method, which is a unique blend of Jungian active imagination, the
chakra system and the shamanic practice of speaking to and learning from the
animals in the trance state. The method is developed by the American psychologist
Stephen Gallegos and is called ”The Personal Totem Pole Process” (Gallegos, 1983,
In this method the client is hypnotized and then the therapist guides him by the use of
deep imagery to encounter an animal in each chakra or energy center. The imagery
animals which emerges from these centres in the body are not only symbols from the
unconscious, but also represent very strong inner energies.

The Chakra System

According to Eastern tradition there are seven main energy centres or chakras in the
human body, and they seem to correspond to certain important points of acupuncture

(Motoyama, 1984). They are vertically aligned, running from the base of the spine to
the crown of the head.
The chakras are connected to our thinking, feeling and willing. Jung referred to them
as the “gateways of consciousness” and he recognized the chakra symbolism as a
developmental model (Jung, 1999). The chakra system is considered an archetypal
depiction of individual maturation through seven distinct stages and the first three
chakras are said to be related to our earliest childhood (Judith, 1996).
The socalled ground chakra is located at the base of the spine and forms our
foundation. It is traditionally considered having to do with our survival instincts and
our sense of security and consequently our emotional and mental stability. It is well-
known that emotional and psychological stability originate in the family and early
social environment.
The second chakra is located in the lower abdomen to navel area and is related to
emotions and sexuality. The third is situated in the solar plexus and is thought of as
the personal power center.
The fourth chakra is centrered in the heart and is said to be the source of love and
compassion. It resonates to our need for relationship with other people. According to
Jung individuation begins in this charka (Jung, 1999). The fifth is situated in the
throat and has to do with communication and expression. The sixth is located in the
center of the forehead and involves our mental and reasoning abilities or intellectual
force. It is oriented to self-reflection and within Eastern spiritual literature this charka
is also named the “third eye”. The seventh chakra is situated at the top of the head
and is the center of wisdom. It has to do with our spirituality, i.e. inspirational and
transcendent ideas.
Of course all this need not to be taken literally, but merely as an inspiration to better
understand the symbolic meaning of the imaginary animals encountered in the
chakras. It should also be emphasized that it is not necessary for the client to believe
in the chakra system in order to imagine an animal coming out from these positions in
his body.

The Procedure

In Gallegos’ method the client is hypnotized and then told to focus his attention on
the ground chakra at the base of his spine. Then he is told to imagine an animal
coming out from this part of his body. Usually, only one animal will show up, but
sometimes two or more animals will appear. The client is then asked to tell the
therapist what kind of animal he sees, what it is doing and if it has something to tell
him. It is also asked to tell what it needs from the client. Sometimes the client does
not like the animal and will have nothing to do with it. If that happens the therapist
urges the client to say it to the animal and wait for its reaction. Usually, some kind of

dialogue with the animal is then established. The procedure is repeated until the client
has met with all seven chakra animals.
Gallegos found that animals can emerge from all parts of the body, for example the
ears, the hands or the left and right side of the body etc. (”polarity animals”).
Sometimes no animal will show up from one (or more) of the chakras (or from other
parts of the body), sometimes the client can only hear or feel the presence of the
animal. It may be that the animal (i.e. that part of the personality) is too scared to
show itself. There can be a number of reasons for that happening, for example fear of
loosing control, resistance or even aversion to the method. But it should also be
considered that according to Jung the ability to actively imagine is a touchstone by
which one can tell whether the client is genuinely aiming at psychological
independence and individuation or whether he wants to remain dependant of the
therapist (Hannah, 1981).
In some cases two or more animals appear from a body part and this usually indicates
a split in the psychic energy or an inner conflict which needs to be resolved
(Gallegos, 1983).
Whether the animals are coming from the chakra points or from other parts of the
body, they are all unconscious symbols and the therapist’s task is to get the client to
stay with and relate to them in some way. If the client for example imagine that the
animal is running away from him, he is urged to ask the animal: ”Why are you afraid
of me?”
Sometimes the emotions are so deeply ”buried” in the body that they only will show
up as an imaginary animal. If the animal for example is a ferocious tiger and chases
the client the therapist may intervene, i.e. he could suggest that the client ask the
tiger: ”Why are you so angry?” or ”What do you need from me?” The socalled
feeding technique used in guided affective imagery (Leuner, 1969) to cool down an
imagery animal is not used in this method. Since the animals mainly consist of what
we have rejected in ourselves the important point here is to help the client to establish
a dialogue with the animal symbol.
The animals are assumed to represent unconscious behavioral tendencies of the
client, in many ways similar to Jung’s concept of the ”shadow”. These split-off parts
of the psyche are to be integrated in the conscious personality. According to Jung the
shadow contains the person’s repressed and less favourable character traits. But just
as the ego contains both positive and negative attitudes, so the shadow also has good
qualities, normal instincts and creative impulses. Thus an animal, which may
symbolize the shadow, can - after being allowed to express itself - suddenly change
from a horrifying monster into a more likable creature. If we are friendly to the
unconscious – realizing its right to be as it is – the unconscious will change in a
remarkable way (Hannah, 1981).

In analytical psychology the animus is a personified image of the masculine in
women, while the anima is a deep presence of the feminine in men’s psyche. Thus in
women the animus can appear as an animal, perhaps as a mighty male lion.
As soon as the client has established a positive relationship with the animal it
sometimes wants to show him something and in that case the client is encouraged to
follow the animal. Maybe the animal will lead him into a cave or show him some
long forgotten pictures from his childhood. In this hypnotherapeutic method the
animals are considered to be much wiser than the therapist as regards to what the
client needs to experience in order to achieve inner healing.
If the client has had a dream, which he only partly remembers, the the therapist can
suggest that he calls for an animal which can take him back into the dream to
reexperience it.
Some animals, especially ”polarity animals” (i.e. animals from two sides of the
body), may even merge together and thus transform themselves into a completely
different animal, indicating that some inner integration has taken place. The therapist
can also use a technique from Gestalt therapy and suggest that the client merge into
the animal, but only on the condition that both parties agree to it. Merging into the
animal allows the client to reexperience and maybe even abreact certain traumatic
events from his childhood.
After the client has met his chakra animals, the therapist can suggest that the animals
meet together in a council. Here it is important to note how the animals interact: Are
they friendly towards each other or do they fight? The interaction between the
animals can reflect some inner conflict or the client’s relations with other people. If
one of the animals is feeling bad, are the others then willing to help it? If the other
animals agree to help, then the therapist can suggest that they form a circle around the
wounded animal and shine healing light from their hearts onto it. This often has a
profound effect. When an animal receives help from its companions, it sometimes
transforms spontaneously into another animal, often a less angry and more
harmonious creature, indicating that some kind of inner integration has taken place.
During the therapy the animals usually become more and more supportive of each
other and the client feels a growing harmony and centredness in his own life.
In the aftertalk the animals may be drawed or painted to get the client even further in
touch with the symbols. The representation of the animal images through art
expression gives a concrete form to the process taking place within the person. It
should be noted that in the aftertalk the client is never encouraged to interpret the
animals as representatives of specific persons in his life, since such interpretations
could destroy the vitality and affective experience of the animals.

Why Animals?

It could rightfully be asked ”Why does the client have to imagine an animal and not
something else coming out from parts of his body?” Firstly, the client should not take
the figures of living people into his fantasies, because then he would not really be
exploring the unknown of the unconscious with the motive of finding his own
wholeness (Hannah, 1981). Secondly, an animal is a living being which it is possible
for the client to relate to in a much more active way than for example a thing. It (or
part of it) may be a manifestation of an unconscious complex or the client’s shadow,
his anima, a parent or a relative and the symbolic representation makes it possible for
the client to relate to it in a different way than he otherwise would do. However, the
animals are not only symbols from the unconscious, but they also represent inner

The Role of the Therapist

In the Personal Totem Pole Process the therapist has the role of a sherpa, guiding the
client to encounter his inner animals in the hypnotic state, but once they emerge he
should intervene as little as possible in the process, because the client is considered to
be the sole director of his story. However, it is important that the therapist during the
visualization is an active listener to the client’s story and remains in dialogue with
him. Thus, if the client remains silent for a long period of time, the therapist may ask
him:”What are you experiencing?” But helpful suggestions are kept to a minimum,
because they would keep the client just as helpless, infantile and passive as he may be
in real life. In this kind of therapy it is assumed that the client - given the time and the
space - has the capability to generate answers and solutions for himself. Thus in the
process the client is honored as an active self-healer.

Comparison to Other Visualization Techniques

In other visualization techniques the client is provided with much more structure, for
example in guided affective imagery the therapist wil give the client ten standard
themes, mostly involving scenery (Leuner, 1969, 1975), but in this way the client’s
fantasy is restricted by the therapist. Besides landscapes cannot talk to the client in
the same way as an animal can. Much of the same apply to Desoille’s directed
daydream where he gives the client six standard images (Desoille, 1966). If the client
in Desoille’s method encounters a threatening creature he is to imagine that he uses a
magic wand to subdue it, but in doing so the client never gets into a fruitful dialogue
with the unconscious symbol.
Shorr (1983, 1998) gives the client a great variety of innovative themes to get the
imagery work started, but he gives very little clue as to when and how to use these
imagery situations. Also, many of the suggested scenes are very direct and
confronting and may not even respect the client, for example: ”Imagine that you are

in the bathroom and some man or woman comes in unexpectedly” or: ”Imagine that
you run over a child with your car and that you keep on driving” (Shorr, 1998). Such
imagery themes obviously can be very traumatic for the client. In the PTPP the client
is never put in unpleasant situations by the therapist, because once the inner animals
have emerged then they will lead the client, not the therapist.
The PTPP also differs from the mentioned methods in that the therapist stays more in
the background and thus lets the client find his own solutions to problems arising
during the visualization. The pitfall of the method is the possible countertransference
from the therapist, i.e. if the client’s animals are ugly monsters the therapist may
dislike them, and this can interfere with the therapy. Also, the process of unfolding
the psyche through symbolic animal images requires much sensitivity and openness
to its flow from the therapist instead of analytical interpretation.

Some Clinical Observations

The animals encountered in the chakras (or other parts of the body) can be any kind
of animals, i.e. mammals, reptiles, birds, fantasy creatures, but they are seldom fishes
or insects. It should be mentioned that the animal from the stomach for some reason
frequently appears as a reptilian, often a snake.
In my clinical work I have observed that clients who imagine insects (especially flies,
ants, beetles) coming out from parts of their body often seem to be very neurotic,
emotionally inhibited and inflexible in their views of themselves and others. Also,
insects are the species which are most remote from humans. Achterberg (1984) found
that cancer patients who imagined large animals representing their white blood cells
did much better in terms of recovery than those who imagined insects fighting the
cancer cells. Thus insects seem to be negative images in disease management and this
is consistent with ancient shamanic tradition (Harner, 1990).
The first sounds the small child hears are the voices of its parents. Thus, animals
coming from the ears (”polarity animals”) in some way seem to be related to parental
figures, i.e. the animal from the right ear often seems to be associated with the mother
and the left with the father. For example, a client of mine imagined a fish coming out
from his right ear and a turtle from his left ear. When the fish met the turtle, it was
eaten by the latter. In the aftertalk the client remarked that this was an exact depiction
of how his father had behaved towards his mother. An individual imagined a
woodpecker coming out from his right ear and a bear from his left ear. When the
animals met each other they immediately started fighting and the woodpecker pecked
the bear several times on the head. The bear was big, but slow and it could not really
defend itself against the quick and aggressive woodpecker. This imagery also had a
striking resemblance to the parental relationship. A woman imagined a big snake
coming out of her right ear and a mouse coming from her left ear. When the animals
met, the snake found the mouse dead. This immediately reminded her of her father,

who died when she was a little girl. The visualization allowed her to get in touch with
all the feelings of sadness and grief she so long had repressed. Another very
emotionally disturbed client experienced a beetle and black ants coming out of his
left ear and a poisonious green frog coming out of his right ear. His biological father
lived abroad and he had never seen him, something that bothered him greatly. He had
a psychotic stepfather and a very bad relationship with his mother who always had
criticised him, a fact the frog reminded him of.

Case Vignettes

A 34-year-old woman, who was extremely introverted and withdrawn, experienced in

hypnosis a mole coming out of her throat (i.e. her communication center). When she
adressed the animal in her imagination it quickly disappeared into the ground. She
had from the age of seven until she was about 14 years old been sexually abused by
her father and he had threaten to kill her if she ever revealed to anybody what had
happened to her. So she kept this terrible knowledge for herself for more than 27
years and as an adult she lived an almost totally isolated life. However, the animal
she imagined coming out of her solar plexus area was a lion and it was able to help
the mole. After having worked with her inner animals for some time she eventually
started to become more outgoing and participate in social activities with other people.

A 42-year-old woman with a depression saw a fierce wolf emerging from her the
base of her spine saying to her: ”I am mad at your father”. It only showed its head,
not its body. The client had a very bad relationship with her father. Working with this
animal interacting with her and the other animals slowly changed its aggressive
attitude. At a later session it came to her in full figure, licked her and expressed its
love for her. After some weeks of intense therapeutic work with the animals the
client’s depression gradually lifted.

A 25-year-old woman suffered from an intense headache. In hypnosis she thought of

her headache as “a giant octopus” squeezing her head. Then she called an animal for
help. She imagined a big bear coming and it removed the octopus with its paw. She
experienced an immediate relief of her headache.

Another client, a 23-year-old woman, who suffered from depression, experienced a

little ball-shaped fantasy animal without any legs and with closed eyes coming out
from the base of her spine. It had pink colours and was very sad. She spent several
sessions talking to, holding and comforting the creature as much as possible and
during the process her depression gradually lifted. Later she met the animal from her
solar plexus area and it turned out to be a sea horse with a human face, but with
extremely big ears. It said to her:”You should sing!” After the imagination she

drawed the animal and it looked almost like a musical clef. In the aftertalk she told
me that she actually was a gifted singer, but during her long depression she had felt
unable to sing anything and repressed the thought. At a later session she said that she
had begun to sing again and that she now even considered making a musical career
for herself.


Even though the PTPP is rooted in ancient traditions, it is still a relatively new and
special form of hypnotherapy and much more investigation into the therapeutic effect
of the method is undoubtedly needed. Nevertheless, it seems to be a promising
technique to access unconscious client material. This article has merely been a brief
presentation of the method, but perhaps it will inspire other therapists to work with
the inner animals in guided imagery.


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