Making "Magic"
Imagination and Action in Therapy and Life
Adam Blatner, M.D.

(This paper is the intellectual complement to a workshop presented at November, 2003 Conference of the National Association of Drama Therapy.) (Draft version: Nov. 6, 2003)

The thesis of this paper is that there is an appropriate place for a bit of magic in life and in doing therapy. I'm referring more to the kind of magic that is involved with imagination and vitality, a bit of drama and a twinkle of the idea, rather than either stage magic or ritual magick (with a k–the occult use of ritual). In a sense, this term just is a more explicit and dramatized form of what the inventor of psychodrama, J. L. Moreno, M.D. (1889-1974), called "surplus reality."

My first point is that I think it is healthy and healing to create roles– not just work with the ones that are generally in our social or personal role repertoires, but to invent and develop new ones. In this case, the role to be developed is that of "imagineer" (I know, Disney used this term, too, for the creators of his fantasy films. The likeness is okay.) What I'm getting at is the idea that on occasion it is appropriate for a person to express a more dramatic part of him- or herself.

Being Understated

Too often therapists develop the habit of being understated, low key, and while this relational style is in fact generally useful, there are occasions when being charismatic, somewhat dramatic, and even a touch of outrageous may be more adaptive. So we should not allow habit, automatic thinking, or more, subtly characterological inhibitory patterns to narrow the individual's role repertoire.

I write about the idea that sometimes "a little bit" of various qualities are valuable, even if more than just a bit is not useful. See article on this website:  ) Too little can also be problematic. Being a little megalomanic, exhibitionistic, and magical can be a wonderful dimension to keep cultivated in life. It lends vitality, spice, and in the role of therapist, it can sometimes be used to get around some patients' or types of groups' resistances.

I have found that not only are people who are affiliated with the various mental health professions frequently overly inhibited in, for example, being able to speak with a loud voice, to project their voice, this is true even for many drama therapists!  The issue here is not just caring about the audience members hearing what's being said, but there is a powerful function of modeling for the client and inner cueing–that is, to speak loudly is to affirm what is said more strongly. In a culture that has tended, to, like, qualify, you know, so that no commitment is really made, and one can't be so easily pinned down, like, this kind of evasiveness not only subconsciously avoids anticipated confrontation, but participates in the disqualification of self and the lowering of one's imagined profile. Anything to avoid being said to be authoritarian in an era in which authority itself has become the object of objection.

We need to recognize this dynamic and not let it dominate or determine our behavior. We need to know that it's okay to speak out loudly, and to act with strength, and to consider whether a given situation might be helped more by such firmness. Certainly, this is one of the points in disciplining children, as described in my paper on anger: (

About Magic

Well, magic is the root of the word imagination, and what magic involves, essentially, is an alignment of clear intention, focused imagination, and an action that anchors or concretizes the first two elements. It is expressed imagination.

Now, to tell the truth, I don't know how to do real magic, and I don't even really believe in magic, in my scientific, positivistic part of my mind. But I believe in the value and importance of exercising imagination and that imagination can be one of the most vitalizing and life affirming activities people can do, and I don't see enough people consciously using their powers of imagination.

Oh, sure, you could argue that most of humanity swims in a field of imagination, but when imagination is the field, is the water and we're the fish, it's unconscious and uses us, imagination then represents our collective and individual illusions, and it can deplete us as well as vitalize us. Using it consciously is different, because, ideally, we should use it in the service of our higher values.

Let's comment on another problem with magic. It has traditionally been associated with black magic, doing harm, seeking narrow selfish power, and generally messing with what in the Star Wars mythos has been called "the dark side."  Well, it's true in psychology, too, that the more one imagines, fantasizes, spiteful revenge, and all sorts of other negative thoughts, the more one builds up layers of fantasy and defense mechanisms and not very loving attitudes.  So I'm talking about light magic, using imagination in the service of love and constructive problem-solving. And I even concretize this by the activity of invocation, which is a technique you might want to use explicitly–I'll talk about it more in a bit.

Surplus Reality

Another principle in considering the idea of magic is "surplus reality." This term, coined by Moreno, as noted above, is useful because it recognizes the ontological validity–the quality of having some sense of really existing--of actions that are performed "as if," in play, or in drama. They aren't really real, but to say the were unreal isn't right either, because they express the reality of the psyche, they are what Moreno called "psychological truths," and these are often more real to our experience of life than the mere factual events that occur. It's a philosophical concept, really, one that helps to appreciate the role of drama in human culture. But it's also a psychotherapeutic tool, because it invites us to explore this dimensions of reality, the dimension of "what if..."  And I want to suggest that doing so is a kind of magic.

So, for example, let's say you want to help a client explore the confused feelings surrounding a loss. One way is to become a magician in the form of a sort of medium, by saying, "Let's imagine your (say, brother, or whoever it is that may have died or otherwise been lost) here now, able to talk to you, answer your questions. Here's an opportunity for a final encounter." (I write about this on my website in a paper on grief work. (Do visit it, at   -- you'll find lots of relevant papers and ideas there!) The psychodramatic empty chair work that follows can be very powerful and healing.

Here's another kind of surplus reality, again with the medium-magician role for the director: Addressing unresolved spiritual issues, I sometimes suggest that the individual's image of his or her "higher power" be concretized and brought down for an actual encounter. This, too, has been the subject of a full workshop at a previous drama therapy conference, and is also written up on my website.

Okay, let's talk about magic potions and pills. Sometimes, when exploring a client's life, we touch on the process of reflecting on early life, on pre-verbal life. Well, you can't ask someone to talk about feelings before they had language. But you can invite a person to reflect on what those feelings might have been if–there's that magic ‘if'–they did have language. And for this purpose, we use the magic pill called "articuline." It allows people to be articulate in roles that are not naturally articulate–small children, babies, pre-birth, and even in roles such as the family couch, or the bedroom door, dream images, etc. It helps to get by the block of non-spontaneity that goes with "but those don't have thoughts or  feelings. With the magic power of articuline, they do.

Sometimes I need to use polypharmacy–that's a term for using two or more medicines in combination. So I have this other pill here, called "depthanol," which opens the subconscious a bit, a little like LSD, but far more focused, so that one can imagine speaking in role from a very insightful, self-reflective perspective.

You see, just creating a new role, a new frame or perspective, often calls into psychological existence functions and dynamics that may not have been there before. Invoking the image of a higher self, for example, concretizes the often unformed, amorphous set of values, aspirations, ideals, helps them to be activated as what the psychoanalysts call an "internalized object." (The problem with the analysts is they come to believe that these inner roles are "really there,"–and the point that narrative therapists recognize is that we are re-creating these all the time; and my addition is to suggest that we can even newly create a number of life-affirming roles, and this broadened and enriched role repertoire can be a powerful element in healing!)

So, suggesting a role of a more insightful self helps to develop psychological mindedness.
Now, regarding the taking on the role of the magician, one who can invoke magical powers.

The Invocation

Let's start with invocation itself. This is related to the art of giving a toast, making a blessing, standing up and giving an impromptu speech, and you all know that this is one of the things lots of folks are scared of more than heights and spiders. And it's drama, it's the fellow who is the narrator, the story-teller, it involves a bit of voice projection and a focusing of intention, leaving out all those expressions of personal humility and qualifications that are so much a part of the role of a humanistic psychotherapist. Hemming and hawing is okay for the Columbo role, but sometimes, one needs to move beyond Ed Sullivan to the Circus Announcer, or find a role somewhere between the two.

An invocation is a calling down of the spirits. Black magicians call down power spirits that are often less than benign, and I firmly advocate keeping away from anything that smacks of this–but what Enlightenment modernist worldviews have done was to move away from any kind of calling on the spirits at all–they rejected superstition and threw out the baby of imagination and enchantment with the bathwater of tyrannical, mindless superstition.  There's an empowering function to invoke benign spirits, and here's one way to do it.

At the beginning of a group, or perhaps, after the warm-up, but to begin the dramatic section of the group process, pause and say something like: Let's all imagine our own images of whatever we think might be our higher powers, our angels, guiding spirits, siddhas, ancestors, whatever image would represent forces that will us to grow, to move towards love, faith, and responsibility, to happiness in the long term, or whatever are our highest values. Let's not just imagine them, but in our hearts, ask them to be with us in the next few hours, to help us remain aligned with their guidance and our own values, or to become re-grounded in these values if in the course of the drama we start retreating to lower values, defensiveness, etc.

Well, perhaps that's a little long-winded. The number of words and explanations may vary with how much the group is warmed up to what you mean.

An invocation at the end is also possible, and it's closer to saying "grace," being more of an expression of gratitude, for the people, for the process, for the insights, and this tends to "anchor" or fix in the mind and emotions some of the deeper lessons that come out of the therapeutic experience.

Developing Your Magical Symbols

These involve your own personal costume, hat, songs, masks, wands, symbols, incantations, etc. I see these as deriving from each individual's individuality, those unique components, determined by interests, cognitive style, temperament, types of imagery that seem to resonate more deeply, as well as cultural background and other elements of personal history.

I want to encourage people to contemplate their own (i)magical potential. You have far more than is generally discussed in polite society. Here again is the process of calling a new role into existence: It begins by recognizing that your uniqueness can and should participate in the formation of the unique way that you are a magician. Your magic partakes of those colors, numbers, symbols, songs, objects, etc. that seem to intuitively touch you, evoke the most je ne sais quois–French for, "oh, I can't really say what it is in words," a phrase that was more pervasive in the intellectual circles of the early 20th Century–now, it's "like, whatever."

And here I am suggesting that you indulge yourself in a bit of personal drama therapy, drawing out what intuitively feels right for you. When you were a kid, oh, about eight, you might have played with playmates in asking, "what's your favorite number? What's your favorite color?" And in the 1970s, there were the Luscher color cards that worked from this, and they also used astrology–what's your sign?–in this way. What's being reached for here is your own affirmation of respect for that part of your subconscious mind that organizes its most personal power in terms of your own set of subtly preferred symbols, shapes, colors, etc.

Remember in the Harry Potter books and movies, this subtle selection process happened on several occasions–by the magic hat, in assigning to the various houses for the students; in the selection of the wand–"the wand selects you" in a way–this is the deeper psychological truth: Certain ways you do magic will express your own personal style, and the game is to explore it this way.

Externalizing the Power

A related magical instrument is the "familiar." Most often pictured as the witch's cat, or the owls in the Harry Potter series–but remember, it could also be a rat or something else – the familiar is the concretization of the image of another, a djin, a spirit, –it could be an elf or sprite– or an animal spirit –shamans, being more nature-based, tend to use these figures as their allies as they are helped or guided in their travels.  Well, how outrageous, but imagine that one of your higher powers is more like Lassie, taking the form of a super-intelligent animal who is sort of a sidekick. This role has less personal striving than the form of a human–that's why it has that form–its role is to be loyal and to serve, and sometimes to guide.

This is the externalization of this deep psychic function of the guiding intuition, and by giving it form, there's more of a potential for explicit dialogue with it.

Non-externalized forms, non pictured, or given dramatic form, tend to operate in a muffled fashion, muffled by doubts and disqualifications and other subtle defense mechanisms.

Now, these principles become extended somewhat in the tools of the magician, in addition to the familiars.

The Incantation

There's the incantation, derived from the Latin ‘cantare," to sing. What words help express and focus your imagination and will?  "Bibbidy, bobbity, boo" was the incantation sung by Walt Disney's Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, remember?  In the traditions of many aboriginal tribes, the initiate discovers his or her power song–what an interesting and evocative notion. What is your power song?

You might want to begin to cast around for certain songs that really work for you, that help build you up and express your feelings. And perhaps you might even in time discover your own song, one you actually make up, or that comes to you.

All these are vehicles for your elaborating a bit of your own mythical alter ego, your magical self, and this technique is great in real life, even if you're not a therapist. Give yourself one or several alter egos, and view these just as elaborations of the richness of your soul. There's so much more to you than what most people see, and I don't mean just the secrets of embarrassment that people don't want to tell even their analyst. I mean those facets that have to do with who you pretended to be when you were a kid, your favorite stories and songs, etc.

Wands, Amulets, and other Evocative Forms

It may help to create amulets and wands–this is a bit of a combination of art therapy and sculpture therapy, the finding of elements that are magical. It's a bit like mask-making– Pam Dunne gave a great workshop on this at a previous psychodrama conference– only now the game is to create a small stick or a walking-stick, with elements that express your own personal power, or more, what empowers you.

There's a funny paradox here. You're most powerful, and should act with the greatest confidence and flair, when you're most empty, and allowing the intuitional self the greatest self-expression. In other words, when you're spontaneous, in the flow, inspired, it's not really your ordinary ego-concerned self that's exercising most of the control. (Oh, a small reserve of good judgment, assessing what's going on, what's appropriate, etc., needs to be maintained, but in a playful or safe context, these functions need not be excessively inhibitory.)

So, tying together this section, find those elements in your own personality, your own creative subconscious, drawing mainly on those that connect you with light, love, positive values, and express these in your costume, hat, wand, song, incantational phrases, special symbols, the images of your guides or familiars, art, etc. These are projections of your deep psyche, and in owning them, working with them, you honor your deep psyche (in a Jungian, and Hillman-esque sense), and thereby gain access to even more spontaneous expression of its imagery.

At some point in your maturation as a wizard (which I'll use as a term for either gender, or if you can recognize that there are good witches and prefer the term, then you can call yourself a witch) –at least, as a partial alter ego role-- you might even find that a name for this other you, your stage name, perhaps, may come to you.  Similarly, don't push it, but if you find your familiar, perhaps in weeks or years its name may come, and that adds even more power to its working in your psyche.) So, fooling around with names can add to the process of becoming more magical.


Just as bad witches put curses on the baby in the fairy tale, if you remember, the good wishes grant blessings. To bless is to mix in a couple of elements. It is to express good will, wishes for good fortune. It is even more powerful when you see something in those you are blessing that you can comment on, draw forward. So often we have parts of us that are wonder-filled and yet have rarely been recognized as such, and if you can do this for another person, you are then blessing that person.

In a therapy group, as part of the invocation, for example, you might comment on the courage of those attending for seeking to better their lives by learning how to transform themselves. Blessings on their willingness to open to others, and to adventure deeper into the forests of their confusion. Blessings on the group members for being willing to be the helpers for those doing the adventuring, for being allies, supporters.


One of the deeper complexes we all partake in is thanking others, wishing we would be thanked by others, withholding thanks–it's a very interesting and deep dynamic, close to the process of opening the heart. Thanking the group for their courage, thanking the guiding spirits for reminding the participants of their highest values, for offering intuitions and hints at more creative and effective response patterns, for showering the group with flashes of humor, all touch this complex. Mythically, spirits, helpful faeries, etc. need to be thanked. They don't really need the physical cookies and milk, but rather the expression of appreciation they represent, or any other expression, created with a sincere heart.

The point is to take the time to imagine a benign spirit that wants to love you, that is trying to help you. It could be Santa Claus, it could be your patron saint, it could be an ancestor. Whether or not there is an external spirit (whatever ‘external' means when it comes to the psyche), there is a functioning inner giver, a part that really loves you and wants to live, wants to grow, and too often even that isn't recognized.


The secret of magic, ultimately, is receptivity, opening your mind to the trans-rational dimensions. You don't have to give up your rationality; indeed, you should exercise it whenever appropriate, and you should rationally determine, with right understanding, those dimensions of existence, those roles, where rationality has no dominion: Love, grief, play with children, faith, etc.–should be largely transrational, with just an edge of rational observation to make sure you don't become careless, overly egocentric, or obviously foolish.  In the openness, you channel the Tao, the un-nameable spirits of intuition and imagination.


Our Magic is our Give-away, our Magic is our Song,
 So Give away your Love today and sing the whole day long.

Another song:

Malvina Reynolds, 1960

Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away,
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.
  It's just like a magic penny,  Hold it tight and you won't have any.
  Lend it, spend it, and you'll have so many
    They'll be rolling all over the floor! For...
Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away,
 Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.
  So let's go dancing till the break of day,  And if there's a piper, we can pay.
For love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.
Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away,
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more. 

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