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General guidelines for working with the building image

As the building image is a representation of a fundamental dimension of the person’s self, i.e. psychological structure, stability and boundaries, it requires careful and skillful handling. The following points have arisen out of clinical observation and practice and are offered as general principles to guide practice.

  • Ensuring and promoting the stability of the structure. This is the main principle guiding the work. The focus must always be on ensuring the stability of the building. Parts of the building may appear to be in a precarious condition such as collapsing walls or subsiding foundations. If this is the case, it is important to work with the client to create reinforcing imagery to temporarily stabilise the structure. Any major reconstruction work is a long-term project that requires a clear plan that takes into account the importance of containing the therapeutic process. A rash intervention can further destabilise conditions.
  • Damage limitation. If there are problems or damage to the structure that, if left, will result in deteriorating conditions then it is important to use reparative imagery interventions that will temporarily limit the damage. Examples of this would be large holes in the roof that can be temporarily covered up with a tarpaulin, or abandoned houses that can be secured with a metal safety fence (these procedures are described later in detail).
  • Clarity about what can and cannot be achieved. The type of structure (such as different kinds of buildings, their basic size and shape) is a given and needs to be accepted. There are occasions when radical changes take place to the type of structure, for example after sustained transformational personal development; however, these are rare and they go beyond the remit of this book. Distortions in the structure nearly always represent early formative experiences and conditioning, and these need to be approached with great care. Any work here will inevitably activate very problematic psychological material for the client. It is best to avoid any work on fundamental structural problems unless the person is equipped to deal with this and is familiar with the process of therapy and has a lot of support in place. The guideline to observe here is to only intervene at this level if the structure of the building is threatened and requires some temporary stabilisation (as indicated earlier).
  • Construction not destruction. It is important that no work is engaged with that involves any destruction of pre-existing features of the house. The building operates over time as a container of the self and making rash alterations to it, in particular, destroying any aspect of it, will have unforeseen and possibly negative consequences for the person. It is important to dissuade clients from attempting to destroy features of the building they may not like. The building can begin to display alterations but this tends to happen in ongoing work and it reflects changes that are happening to the person (see the case vignettes for examples of this process). The process of improving or developing the building is a synthesis between the rational and imaginal perspectives. Conscious considered reparative interventions are integrated with the emerging requirements of an unfolding creative process not subject to the control of the ego.
  • Emphasising/maintaining the boundary between the exterior/interior of the structure. There is an obvious distinction between the outside and the inside of the building. The exterior deals with the basic containment of the self and how it is positioned in terms of its relationship to the external world. There are three aspects involved. First, there are the basic features of the self-structure, e.g. size and type of building, condition and structural stability. Second, there is the presentation of self, e.g. defensive (fortified building), open/closed (windows and doors), false persona (when the fagade is significantly different to the rest of the building). And third, it can show the relationship to the environment, such as embedded in a social matrix (e.g. terraced house), or self-sufficient and independent (e.g. detached house). In other words the exterior is the publicly perceived self-structure. However, the inside of the building represents the interior domain of the person’s psychological structure, in other words, the private self. I believe it is important to respect this distinction in therapeutic practice. When clients are viewing their representational building image while in a conscious relaxed state, it can become more difficult for them to hold boundaries. If the therapist suggests going inside the building, the client might not be able to refuse. This is particularly relevant to working with clients who have a history of abuse. Therefore I would usually wait until the client initiates an exploration of the building interior (although, occasionally, if appropriate, I might suggest a halfway measure such as looking through a window).
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