Vision Collages: A Psychologist Shares Her Experience and Hope

2016-01-19-1453237939-2830324-LindaShantiMcCabee1405487894475100x100.jpgAuthored by Dr. Linda Shanti McCabe for Psyched in San Francisco Magazine. Dr. Shanti McCabe holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and works with women (including pre and postpartum) recovering from food, weight and body image issues. She holds SoulCollage groups for women (including pregnant and postpartum) using expressive arts to find and express the many parts of the Self. She blogs at

It's that time of year again: the time when people break their resolutions. Here is Brene Brown's timeline for January:

January 1 -- This resolution is going to be awesome!
January 5 -- I'm awesome.
January 10 -- This sucks.
January 20 -- I suck.

If you are one of those people who doesn't want to fall into the shame-hole, but do want to enter the new year mindfully, a vision collage can be a fun way to do this.

What are vision collages?

A vision collage is just what it sounds like: a collaged vision for your life. When making this collage, you can be very specific with putting what you want or choose images that appeal to you without knowing why. You can make sections of your collage for different areas of your life (romance, family, health, career, finances, spirituality). Or you can just "slap images on the page and trust that it will mean something" as one client of mine stated this year.

How do I pick the right images?
Trust your gut and your right brain.

You do not need to know why something resonates for you or speaks to you. Fifteen years ago I put an image of a bunny in a vision collage I was making. I did not know why this little bunny rabbit wanted to be put in the collage. The logical part of my brain said:

"I don't have any connections with bunnies. I don't have a pet bunny, I'm not interested in bunny symbolism, bunnies are not endangered. There is no reason for a bunny to be on my collage."

Nonetheless, the bunny wanted to stay. So I made a space for it. Later that year (as I was deepening work around forgiving my father for feeling absent in my childhood), I found a stuffed bunny rabbit buried in a pile of childhood things. It was a gift my dad had bought for me when I was a small. It brought tears to my eyes. My unconscious psyche had remembered and stored all the ways in which the love from my father was present.

What if my goals are not realistic for the coming year? 2016-01-19-1453237696-6506417-visioncollagepsychedinSF1.jpg
You can use your vision collage to image goals while letting go of the timeline and the way they come to fruition.

It is fabulous to have specific goals and intentions for the year ahead. A goal is a realistic, tangible and measurable outcome. I had the goals completing a doctorate and getting licensed as a Psychologist on my vision collage for ten years. It was important for me to develop and cultivate the perseverance to keep setting these goals, again and again, for as long as it took.

What if I have an intention that is not yet clear or don't know what it means?

An intention is a desire and a deep orienting of the self toward a direction. It can show up as a feeling, rather than something to measure, and can have multiple meanings.

Sometimes people pick images that represent a desire (such as traveling), a feeling (such as spaciousness), or multiple meanings. The image doesn't have to exactly match the literal.

This image of a mother holding her newborn baby could (and did) hold all of these meanings:
  • A feeling of being loved and cared for
  • Re-parenting one's self in a loving way
  • Asking for help and connecting with a loving Higher Power
  • Releasing a baby that one has lost due to miscarriage
  • Holding the question of whether to have a baby

My critic has lots of derogatory opinions that block me.
Make a place for your critic and do not let it run the show.

When I facilitate collage workshops, I invite people to pick an image of a chair (literally) and place it in an actual chair to make a space for their critic. The critic (that part of the self that is incessantly judging) will be there. It will have many opinions about how your collage, your goals, and you, are not good enough. This is the part of you that is terrified of growing and tries to hold you back. It is important to acknowledge this voice without letting it dictate holding you back from who you really are and are becoming. Two acronyms for fear that I often use with my clients in eating disorder recovery are:
FEAR= False Evidence Appearing Real and FEAR=Face Everything And Recover.

Isn't it magical thinking to make a collaged vision and then expect that to happen in real life? What if my life doesn't look like my vision collage?2016-01-19-1453237832-5866072-Visioncollagepsychedinsf2.jpg
A vision collage gives you permission to dream big and then take action. It's not about the collage. Let the vision turn into your imperfectly beautiful life.

There is a famous quote attributed to Goethe, "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it." I like how the words dream and do are both here. Dream, and then DO. You have to imagine something is possible before you walk your way into it. And then you have to actually walk into it.

For many years, I wanted to be in partnership with a loving, respectful, partner. Early on in our dating, when my (now) husband saw my massive vision collage, and was a bit taken aback.
He said, "Um, there is no way I can live up to that."

I told him, "That's okay -- me neither!"

We now are living (mostly) happily ever after in what Anne Lamott calls "the church of 80 percent good enough."

What is your vision for 2016? There is no wrong way to make a vision collage. This is your invitation. Now is the time.