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Home arrow Psychology arrow Using Mental Imagery in Counselling and Psychotherapy: A Guide to More Inclusive Theory and Practice

Work on the building becomes an ongoing unfolding process

Although initially, the therapeutic work (informed by the initial diagnostic procedure) might appear to be quite clear-cut in terms of what interventions might be required, ongoing work on the building is not so predictable: it unfolds according to an inner logic. This is particularly the case with structural issues and the foundations of the building. Through experience I have come to the conclusion that nothing should be initiated in terms of attempting any kind of intervention with such fundamental aspects of the building image (apart from the two process management strategies that I discuss at the end of this chapter). Instead it is important to wait and see if and how ongoing work with the building begins to facilitate changes in these areas spontaneously. For instance, it is not unusual for the client to be drawn to the foundations during a period of intensive reflection on the origin of problematic behaviours and note that some work appears to be taking place. In terms of structural issues, likewise, it often happens that suddenly a client notices an issue with the structure at the same time as having insights into earlier formative experiences. It is as if the building opens itself up to the exploration and discloses further dimensions of itself. The following case vignette, titled A Repaired Building Needs Work on its Foundations, illustrates both features.

I worked with Maria, a sensitive and resilient woman in her late thirties, over a period of eight months. She originally came for therapy because she was experiencing mounting anxiety that interfered with her ability to work. Maria proved a very willing and able practitioner of imagery work. Initially, she visualised a big white building, dilapidated on one side, with a back windowless wall. She was shocked to discover that part of the roof had been damaged a long time ago and she made a link with a confusing period in her life when she was sent by her parents to live with her aunt. Despite her fears of exploring the damaged interior, Maria persevered and realised that part of the hole in the roof had been repaired over time. At that point she suddenly grasped that her building had a double structure: the modern white building she could see from the outside had been built around the original little damaged house. This discovery made sense to Maria as she reflected on the way she had been striving since she was a teenager to create a proper life for herself. This had included leaving her village, going to university and then emigrating and establishing herself in the UK. The results of all her efforts were symbolised by the way that a new building had been built up like a containing shell around the original damaged house. Maria was very keen to engage with further exploration and work with her building - she could see that parts of the dilapidated walls needed repairing. After a few more sessions, followed by a short break when she returned to visit her family in Eastern Europe, her attention spontaneously turned to the ground around the building. She was dismayed to realise it was strewn with rubbish and that this rubbish also formed part of the foundations of the house itself. After time reflecting on its nature, she came to the conclusion that this detritus represented all the negative beliefs that were part of the cultural fabric of her village background. This insight initiated a process of consciously examining the ideas she had absorbed from her background and as she did so she visualised herself slowly and patiently clearing out the foundations of the building. During this process, Maria felt that she was working on traces of traumatic experiences lived out long ago but still preserved in the collective memory of the people in her village.

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