The Feeling Good Therapist - Humorous Imagining Technique

Humorous Imagining Technique with host, Richard Lam, LMFT, featuring Michelle Woodward, M.S. Clinical Mental Health Counseling

*This Technique was developed by Dr. David Burns, American Psychiatrist and Adjunct Clinical Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine

In this engaging video from the Feeling Good Therapist series, Michelle Woodward introduces viewers to the technique of Humorous Imaging, created by Dr. David Burns. Michelle, a mental health therapist, shares her experience with this method, highlighting its application as an antidote for anger in relationships. The session involves a role play with Richard, where they explore a scenario where Richard's spouse is not following through on commitments, leading to frustration and anger. Michelle guides Richard through envisioning his spouse as a tiny, ant-sized, bright green person, struggling to handle a large phone. As Richard humorously describes this scenario, the tension lessens, and he expresses increased compassion for his spouse's challenges.

The video demonstrates the creative and compassionate aspects of Humorous Imaging that acts as a  coping skill for anger management, offering a unique perspective on how to control anger in a relationship and how to not let things bother you. Viewers interested in learning more about anger management therapy, and other therapeutic tools and techniques are encouraged to subscribe for more content.


Richard: Welcome everyone to the Feeling Good Therapist, where we learn a lot of different tools and techniques to help you in your private practice or in your practice, rather, and also in your daily life if you want to use it. Today, we have Michelle Woodward who will be teaching us a really awesome technique called Humorous Imaging, a technique created by Dr. David Burns.

Michelle: As you said, my name is Michelle Woodward. I'm a mental health therapist in the state of Washington and in Idaho. I recently became more familiar with this method of Humorous Imaging through working with Tyanne Trong, who many people know as an amazing Team CBT trainer and therapist. Her application of it is kind of an antidote for anger when there's some relationship conflict. So today, I'll be bringing it to life here with you, Richard.

When we use this method, of course, our client has a relationship that is bothering them and is creating some upsetting feelings, usually some anger. So we would just ask the client to briefly share first about a moment of conflict when the bothersome behavior is happening and how they responded. In the example we're going to use today, you're going to be in a married relationship and you'll be kind of bothered by your spouse. You're asking them to help out with making appointments for the kids, and they've agreed to do that, but then they're not following through. How does that sound, Richard?

Richard: That sounds great. Let's do it.

Michelle: Okay, great. Also, first, we want to maybe have you share a little bit about that moment, Richard. We'll start with that moment when you're feeling let down and angry when your partner hasn't followed through.

Richard: Well, Michelle, I'm just kind of thinking a lot about my relationship with my wife, and you know, I've been asking her to make these really important doctor appointments for our kids, and she'll say she'll do it. It's already been three weeks, and I've been asking her, reminding her. I even told her if she's not going to do it, I'm going to do it, but she really persists and tells me she'll do it and not to call, or she'll be really upset. I'm just getting really angry and really frustrated with her.

Michelle: Yeah, yeah, it sounds like it's very frustrating that she's agreed and you've been waiting and kind of giving her space to make it happen, and then she's not following through. I'm sure that along with the anger, you may be feeling a bit worried about making sure your kids are taken care of and whether you can really count on her to make sure your kids are well cared for. I could understand why you'd be feeling frustrated and angry for sure. I'm wondering what your current level of anger is right now on a scale of zero to 100%.

Richard: Oh, probably like 80%.

Michelle: 80% Yeah, so it's pretty high. It's pretty painful and irritating, I'm sure. What would you like? How much anger would you like to feel in this case? You've talked about wanting some relief from feeling angry with your wife. How much would you like to feel?

Richard: Maybe like 30%?

Michelle: That would be so nice, wouldn't it? To feel 50% less angry. It would probably be a lot easier to interact with her and talk about it with her if you could feel that much less intensely of that anger, right? So, today my thought was that we could use this method called Humorous Imaging.

It can be used for anxiety, and it's a creative method that can also be used for anger because humor can be an antidote for anger. Maybe we're not ready to dive into using the five Secrets or some other tools, but maybe this can help us feel a little bit less intensely angry when some bothersome behaviors occur in our relationships. So, what you do is you just kind of envision the other person in a very humorous way that's realistic to them, like that really represents their behavior and the environment that it's in. I'll ask you questions to kind of help you bring that to life, so it's just a creative process. For example, I had a client who was really angry with her boss, and she imagined her boss to be this sort of giant-sized Queen who was smoking cigars and frantically sending off emails that were criticizing everybody in the office, while running on a treadmill at the same time. It was fun, but also through the process, she kind of felt some compassion too, and in that space, the anger kind of dissolved somewhat. So, hopefully, we can bring that to life here with this example. Does that sound good? Are you okay with moving forward with this method?

Richard: Yeah, I'm happy to give it a try.

Michelle: Okay, so in this scenario where your spouse is not following through and you're feeling so bothered by that and so angry, how big is she?

Richard: Honestly, I think she's kind of pretty tiny, like she can't really do anything because she's so small. She's just tiny, teeny-tiny.

Michelle: Yeah, about how big would you say? Like an ant?

Richard: Yeah, maybe kind of like an ant size.

Michelle: Is she a certain color?

Richard: Yeah, a color. Maybe kind of like a really bright green color, something really visible. Bright green.

Michelle: Yeah, okay, just like really stands out. Yeah, is she a person in this or is she actually an ant?

Richard: I guess she's like a very miniature person. She's a person but just very miniature, ant size.

Michelle: And how old is she in this scenario? How old is she?

Richard: Maybe she's kind of like a five-year-old.

Michelle: Okay, and what is this 5-year-old ant-sized bright green person doing and saying that reflects this bothersome pattern for you?

Richard: Well, if I can imagine it, she's probably saying, "I'll do it," but then she's having a hard time doing it because she's very tiny and small and visible. So, you see that she's there and that she says she's going to do it, but she actually doesn't because she's so small and not able to.

Michelle: Okay, yeah, she's so small. She's saying she's going to do it, but she's having a hard time doing it. As you're describing this, are there other humorous details that come up in this scenario?

Richard: Yeah, I'm just kind of picturing her trying to call someone, and there's this giant phone in front of her. She's so tiny and having a hard time dialing. Even when she's talking on the phone, it's like a little squeaking because she's so small and people can't really hear her.

Michelle: Yeah, so she's this tiny little thing, dialing, really trying to talk but not really being able to communicate, and this giant-sized phone in the scene. As you're describing this, how are you feeling, Richard?

Richard: It's just kind of funny to think about, but also the more that I think about it, I think it is kind of hard for her, not because she's so small, but because I know she has a lot of anxiety talking to people. It's really difficult for her to even pick up the phone and call someone. So, I definitely have a little more compassion for her there.

Michelle: Yeah, what would you say would be the best way for you to respond to this tiny ant-sized bright green woman who's trying hard to dial on a large phone and communicate through that?

Richard: Oh no, definitely with a lot more compassion, kind of letting her know I know it's really challenging and tough, and it's hard to pull yourself to do these things. I'd love to hear more about it because it sounds like it's been pretty challenging for you. It's on top of your mind, and you've been trying to do this. I just want to understand a little bit what's been challenging.

Michelle: Yeah, okay. So, the next piece to this is to kind of bring to mind a moment when you're feeling really angry that she has followed through. Can you think of a moment? You don't have to describe the moment to me. You can just call it to mind.

Richard: Yeah, I'm definitely picturing it right now. And then check in with your anger and bring to mind this humorous image. Yeah, just maybe share what that's like for you.

Richard: It's kind of like remembering that moment did make me feel a little bit upset and angry, but then imagining this humorous image of her, it's a little funny to think about and also a lot of compassion, like someone who's really struggling, like maybe a little kid who doesn't really know how to do things but they're trying and it's hard for them. You have some empathy, but it's also a little funny at the same time.

Michelle: Yeah, how angry do you feel right now, Richard?

Richard: Maybe like 30%?

Michelle: Okay, great. We can stop there.

Richard: Great, let's pause here. Thank you, Michelle, for such an awesome demonstration of humorous Imaging. If everyone wants to learn more about Michelle, you can find a description of her below. If you're wanting to learn more skills and tools, feel free to subscribe to this channel. Thank you, everyone.

Find A Therapist

Get matched with a therapist proven and vetted to help you feel better faster