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Home arrow Psychology arrow Using Mental Imagery in Counselling and Psychotherapy: A Guide to More Inclusive Theory and Practice
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The first stage of the work

The following diagnostic procedure is designed to get a clear initial picture of where clients situate themselves on their journey through life. Before starting, it is best to discuss with clients the reason for doing this, i.e. because this procedure can show them quite clearly where they are and also give some indications about how to approach difficulties or obstacles in their life that may be impeding their progress.

Bringing the landscape into view: using the framing function

The concept of life as a journey seems quite easy to accept for most people. This is usually the case for linguistic metaphors that are generated by conceptual metaphors. But, there are some technical aspects of bringing the inner landscape into view that seem to require more explanation. From experience I have found words along the following lines to be an effective introduction. They can be adapted appropriately to the individual client as follows:

‘I am going to help you to get a clearer picture of where you are on your journey through life. This is quite simple and straightforward. I will ask you where you feel you are, at the moment, on your journey and you will respond in the form of a simple picture or a feeling. For example I might ask other people this question and they could come up with answers such as: standing at a crossroads, fallen down a hole, up against a brick wall, or they might not be able to give it a picture as they just feel lost somewhere. Don’t worry if you think you are just imagining this - just allow yourself to create a picture. Then, when you are ready I will ask you to be in that landscape in order to get more sense of where you are.’

It is also important to let the client know that they can stop the procedure at any time if they are feeling uncomfortable (for further elaboration on preparing the client for imagery work please see Chapter 12). Adapt the following procedure to the individual client. When instructions are followed by bracketed terms, this indicates that you will need to select one that is suitable for your client. Suggested verbatim instructions or questions are given in quotation marks.

  • 1 Make sure the client is sitting comfortably with uncrossed legs and both feet on the ground. Ask them to close their eyes. Then take them through a simple relaxation procedure of your choosing.
  • 2 Ask them the following question, ‘Where do you feel you are at the moment on your journey through life? How would you sum it up for a stranger like myself?’ There are two possible general responses to this question: either clients will pull up a metaphoric image; or they will report that they do not know where they are, because they are either completely lost or they cannot visualise anything. If it is the latter this will need further clarification before you can move onto the next step. Do this by using questions to elicit the following basic information if possible. Establish if clients feel that they are standing on some kind of solid ground and, if so, what kind of ground. If they feel they are floating, get them to sense what they are floating in. If it is air, how far above the ground are they? If they can’t see anything, ask them if this is because it is dark, or are they inside something such as a fog or a cave. Persist with gentle questioning until clients have some kind of image of their situation, however sketchy this might be.
  • 3 Help the client connect more deeply with the metaphoric landscape using the following instruction, ‘Now let yourself actually be in this landscape instead of just looking at it like a picture. Be in your body inside this landscape. See if you can get a bit more detail of your surroundings.’ As discussed previously, it is important to make sure that clients are viewing the landscape from a first-person perspective (and not just viewing themselves within the landscape from a third-person perspective). Then ask them to describe what they are seeing.
  • 4 In this next stage, you are going to help clients gather more information about their current situation. Help them clarify their position, and, if appropriate, ask the following question, ‘How long do you feel you have been in this place?’ It is helpful to know if the landscape represents a long-term situation or a place where the person has recently arrived. Another useful question would be, ‘How do you feel about being in this place?’ People will have a range of responses to their landscapes. Their emotional reactions and attitudes to where they find themselves will have an important bearing on the therapeutic work.
  • 5 It is useful to begin to get clients to make some clear links between their inner landscape and their outer life circumstances. Asking the following question can help them do this, ‘How does this place show up for you in your outer life?’ However, this is quite a challenging task if the person is inexperienced in using imagery. Therefore if they struggle to make these links, it is best to postpone this until a discussion can take place after the initial diagnostic imagery procedure is over.
  • 6 When the client has gathered a clear enough picture of their landscape, advise them that the process is coming to a close. Do not, however, bring clients out if they have found themselves in a precarious position in their inner landscape. By precarious, I mean a situation that self-evidentially requires immediate intervention, e.g. clinging to the edge of a precipice or sinking in water, etc. In such cases it is important to offer an immediate reparative intervention that will create a temporary halt to this situation, such as creating a rope to hold the person in place or a lifebuoy to prevent the person from going under the water (see following section for a range of appropriate strategies).
  • 7 Instruct the client to stop seeing the picture of the landscape and to switch their attention back to their physical body. Let them know that you are going to bring them back into their everyday state of mind. Then use a simple basic procedure designed for this purpose.
  • 8 Finally, when clients have completed the procedure, it is helpful to summarise their account of the landscape as a preparation for a discussion of their experience.
 
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