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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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Starting to work with the path: the diagnostic, reparative and monitoring functions

Similarly to working with the other framing images, all the therapeutic functions identified in the inclusive model can come into play at various stages of the work with the path image. The most significant difference between the path imagery and the other two framing images is that, in general, the processing function is less evident. The building and the plant images are far more likely to contain repressed material in a symbolised form as they represent structural and developmental aspects of the self. Because of this I attend to the processing function in a separate section at the end of the chapter.

General comments on the path image

The imagery of the landscape and path has the potential to change over a period of time in a more radical way than the two other framing images of the building and the plant. This is understandable, as the path image is the symbolisation of a dynamic process. The current obstacles and conditions experienced as someone progresses through life will be revealed in the imagery of the landscape. This framing image represents how clients are currently drawing on their own resources in the process of responding to and interacting with the challenges of leading a meaningful and purposeful life.

One of the great advantages of this framing image is that it can operate as a very clear commentary on clients’ progress over a period of time, thus giving them an invaluable tool for tracking and monitoring the direction their life is taking. This monitoring function is important as the journey through life takes many forms: sometimes, it is a leisurely stroll and, sometimes, it is a very challenging process of overcoming difficult obstacles; occasionally, the way ahead seems impossible and we backtrack, and at other times, we are paralysed by indecision; sometimes we lose our way and at other times we reach important staging posts. It is important to note that by using the conceptual metaphor, life is a journey, this does not imply that the focus is on arriving at a final destination (in reality there can only be one final destination for everyone in this life, which is death). Instead the focus is on the journey itself. There is an individual rhythm to each person’s journey; there are times when the person needs to rest up and times to push on. Working with the path imagery can be a very good way of helping to develop more insight into the balance required between agency and receptivity on life’s journey - the dynamic balance between the conscious goals set by the rational perspective and the different requirements of the imaginal perspective. Problems in life often arise when there is an imbalance between the two.

Clients can bring a variety of difficulties in relation to their sense of leading a purposeful life. This section discusses some of the main themes (such as being lost or encountering obstacles) presented by clients and how these can be represented in their landscape imagery. A range of potential reparative interventions are also discussed for some of the more problematic landscapes such as finding oneself in a deep hole. In general, interpretation here is mostly self-evident.

Lost

No matter how lost clients feel, the diagnostic procedure will usually locate them somewhere - even at the most basic level of sensing whether their feet are on some kind of surface or not. Articulating where they are in relation to a landscape presents a more concrete place to begin to understand how they have become lost and how to reconnect with a more meaningful direction in life. In my experience there are usually two main ways in which people represent themselves as lost: either they cannot see where they are or they picture themselves in an undifferentiated landscape with no indication of a direction to follow.

In the former case, the first step is to help clients identify why they are unable to visualise anything. This is often because the place they are in is dark or their vision is obscured in some other way. Reparative interventions could take the form of suggesting a torch (representing insight) to shine a light onto the surroundings. One of the basic things to establish at this initial stage is whether clients think they are inside something or not. Sometimes people report that there is a fog or cloud around them. These conditions are often associated with confusion. A useful intervention is to suggest to clients that they are wearing X-ray glasses that allow them to see through the fog or mist. An important thing to establish is whether this fog is a temporary state that will vanish of its own accord, or whether it is a more permanent feature of the landscape and that the person needs to find a way through it. Some of the questions outlined in the diagnostic procedure should be helpful in this regard, particularly the ones that aim at eliciting a sense of how long the person has been at this point on their journey and what this may be connected with.

The second possibility is that someone might be able to visualise their surroundings but these environments are undifferentiated spaces. Common examples of such landscapes would be clients reporting that they are in the middle of a forest, in a desert, out in the middle of the ocean or standing in a vast featureless plain. What all these landscapes have in common is that there is no clear path or direction to follow. Quite often, people report that they feel they have been in these spaces for a long time never really knowing if they are heading in a productive direction or just wandering around in circles. In these situations it seems to be important to get more sense of the landscape in order to establish a direction. Over time I have developed a general method for gaining a wider perspective on the current situation. In this procedure I guide clients through a process of imagining themselves rising up above the landscape to get a bird’s-eye view. An example of offering this intervention can be seen in the extended vignette (titled Traversing the Dark Woods) presented at the end of this chapter. As a result of doing this, people will usually begin to identify a feature in the landscape that they can head towards - something that will operate as a clear objective or reference point. When I bring them back down to their original starting point I often suggest that they visualise a compass that can be used to orient themselves in their landscape and help guide them in the right direction. It is important to ask them to identify what this inner compass might represent; examples could be: following the advice of a trusted person; following gut feelings or specific spiritual teachings; and listening to one’s conscience, etc.

 
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