The Container Exercise

In EMDR therapy we spend some time preparing client’s for the deeper work of resolving the originating events that are leading to their problem symptoms, behaviors, and attitudes.    To prepare we offer the client tools and techniques to help with self-soothing and self-control.  One such technique we offer is call the “container.”

This is an imaginal experience in which the client is invited to imagine a container of any shape, size, and quality.  You can try this if you’d like. If you struggle with dissociation, imagery triggers you easily, or you are feeling emotionally activated, please don’t do this exercise alone.  Seek the guidance of a skilled therapist to help you.  And if you are in crisis, call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you’d like to give this a try, follow along and take as much time as you need to pause and engage the activity.  Ok, now, close your eyes and imagine a container.  It can be any container.  What does it look like?  How big is it?  What color is it?  Is it something special to you or something you’ve seen before?  Where is your container?  Pick something that has a lid or would have the ability to hold “stuff” securely.  Some people have imagined armoires, unique wooden containers with small and big drawers, tool boxes, mason jars, rubber-maids, cookie jars, etc.  There is no right or wrong.  This will be your very own container.  Now just take a moment to imagine it.

Now, do you have anything that is bothering you?  Identify something mildly to moderately nagging; something you can’t do anything about right now.  Perhaps you’re at work and keep getting a nagging thought and feeling about organizing a closet of yours that you just can’t seem to get around to lately.  Or perhaps you feel a little uncomfortable about a recent interaction you had with a friend and its not the right time to resolve it with them because they are out of town or unavailable.  Maybe you’re nervous about an upcoming event you need to attend or trip you need to take.  Something like that.  On a scale of zero to 10 (with 10 being the most distress you can imagine and zero being completely neutral) think of something that is a two or a three. 

Notice how you feel when you think about it.  Notice what you see in your mind’s eye when you think about it.  Notice your thoughts.  Be with this for a moment.  Now imagine sending your feelings, the images, and thoughts to your container.  You can do this by imagining them (one at a time or as a single combined unit) flowing from your body into the container.  Or you can imagine walking up to your container and placing these items in, followed by placing the lid on it, and then walking away.  Whatever works for you.  Take a moment to try this.

Now, check in with yourself again.  What do you notice in your body… in your mind?  Has the distress reduced?  How would you rate it on a scale of zero to 10? If you noticed that your distress reduced, this may be a very useful tool for you to engage regularly to help manage emotions and mental difficulty.

The purpose of this technique is not to avoid problems that we can solved right now.  It is intended to help you contain things when they can’t be solved with right now.  This can be very helpful when you’re trying to fall asleep and can’t stop your mind from racing about the next day’s events.  Clearly there isn’t anything you can do about tomorrow while you’re trying to fall asleep.  In fact, we all know getting our best rest will prepare us to engage the day more effectively.  So use the container to put worry thoughts and feelings in and then come back to them when you are ready to effectively work through them.  This is not an activity of avoidance or denial but an activity of self-control and empowerment.  Give it a try and see if it is helpful for you.

If you’re interested in learning more about Resilient Life Therapy in Minnetonka, MN and about the work we do with our clients and/or if this is a type of therapy you’d like to pursue, please contact us here.   

We are located at 13911 Ridgedale Drive, Suite 320, Minnetonka, MN 55305

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