Identifying some common functions of mental imagery in therapeutic practice

In order to identify a locus for integration I decided to carry out some research to see if it was possible to identify any more specific commonalities in its practice that could move beyond the simple distinctions discussed in the previous section. I designed a research study in which I analysed a sample of published clinical vignettes from peer-reviewed journals containing reports of working with mental imagery. These vignettes were chosen from a range of different therapeutic approaches. The grounded theory analysis of the data disclosed some common ways in which imagery operates in therapy (interested readers are referred to Thomas [2011] for a detailed description of the research project). The following section describes these findings in detail.

Six functions were provisionally identified in the use of mental imagery in a therapeutic context as follows: diagnostic; monitoring; processing; reparative; process management; and framing. In the descriptions below, the distinctions between each function have been sharpened in order to identify and articulate the essential operational characteristics. However, in practice, these functional differences are not so clear-cut and there is considerable overlap between them. In other words rather than providing absolute categorical distinctions these six functions have fuzzy boundaries.

I use the same convention for each of the six identified functions beneath; i.e. each one is given a short descriptive title followed by an explanatory statement with some clinical illustrations (taken from the original reports used in the research). In particular I aim to offer ideal examples for each category. The discussion includes some indication of the way different schools have understood and utilised the particular function. An attempt has been made to make the titles of the particular categories as generic and transtheoretical as possible.

Readers will note that some of the examples given for specific functions could also serve as an example for another different function. This functional overlap is due to a particular characteristic of the therapeutic use of mental imagery, i.e. one mental image can be used for more than one function at the same time. I will return to discuss this important multi-functional aspect in the following chapter.

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