Trapped, stuck or blocked
Another quite common theme reported by clients is the sense that their progress has been halted in some way. I recall extreme versions of this theme in my work with substance misusers who often found themselves at the bottom of a deep hole. In these situations clients usually expressed their shock and dismay accompanied by despair because they could see no way out. Over time I developed some reparative procedures that could be used to help instill hope and engage the client’s agency to reconnect with a sense of direction and purpose. These would take the form of importing helpful elements into the landscape such as ladders and climbing equipment that could be used to extricate them from their predicament. Less extreme experiences of finding ones progress blocked are expressed in common linguistic metaphors such as: ‘hitting a brick wall’ or ‘I’ve reached a dead-end’. In these anxiety-provoking situations people will often default to their automatic reactions. These responses commonly take unhelpful forms such as falling into despondency and helplessness or, the other end of the continuum, attempting to overcome or break through the block using force. Sometimes the automatic response can manifest as a rigid mental position that is characterised by either/ or thinking and an attempt to impose a decision rather than allowing a process to unfold. The path imagery can be very helpful in these situations because it offers another possibility, i.e. a more conscious exploration of the block and how to resolve it. As a general rule, paying attention in the landscape allows the imaginal perspective an opportunity to convey more insights into particular features. In the following example, titled An Unexpected T Junction, I present a further extract of George’s work seen previously in Chapter 8 (in the vignettes titled The Light in the Hallway and A Fire Is Lit).
George had spent three years on a professional training course and had high hopes for his first post. Unfortunately he soon discovered that he had been recruited into a poorly functioning workplace with a rapid turnover of staff. He arrived for our eighth session in a state of shock - that morning he had been summoned for a meeting with the management and had been fired. I suggested that it might be helpful to orientate himself by looking at a representation of his journey. George reported that he found himself standing on the green verge of a tarmac road that had come to a T junction. On the other side of the junction was a high brick wall that appeared to be impassable. He had no hesitation in interpreting the landscape as an accurate representation of what had just happened; he had been traveling on a clear professional path and, out of the blue, the way ahead was suddenly barred, forcing him to turn either to the right or to the left. He said he was trying to make some kind of sense about what he could do next. The loss of his job was leading him to consider radical and unwelcome possibilities of abandoning his dreams of establishing himself in his new profession. The brick wall appeared insurmountable. He found himself oscillating between feelings of hopelessness and dejection and an impulse to make an immediate decision in order to calm his understandable anxiety about money and security.
I urged him to explore the image further through turning it into a drawing. As he drew a bird’s eye view of the T junction, he realised that the wall only extended a short distance in both directions. In fact, it appeared to be an outside wall enclosing a rectangle of ground and buildings. The road running left and right at the T junction also curved around each end of the perimeter wall. As he reflected on the drawing he said he felt calmer and he realised that maybe there was an alternative to his initial either/or thinking. In the following session he reported that he was starting to be more hopeful that he could find a way around this obstacle and continue to develop his professional career.