The processing function

The processing function appears to operate in the plant image in a similar way to the building image. This is due to the fact that earlier experiences have imprinted themselves onto the plant and shaped how it has grown and, consequently, repressed material and experiences are held in a stable form. Just picturing the plant will not necessarily activate the processing function. However, paying sustained attention to the plant image can allow a conduit for the repressed material to emerge into the person’s awareness. If the person can withstand the reliving of the repressed experience, particularly in the form of disturbing emotions and memories, this allows the material to be processed and consciously integrated. The following vignette, titled The ‘Scraggly’ Geranium, is a classic example of the processing function at work.

Janine was a creative woman in her late thirties who was in remission from breast cancer. Due to her professional arts background, she was attracted to the use of creative visualisation to help support her continued good health. When she pictured her plant form, she described it as a ‘scraggly’ geranium bush growing in a plastic pot. She noted that the little branches were starting to sprout new growth and she could also see the beginnings of tiny flower heads. When she reflected on the possibility that she might be beginning to blossom, she stated that this was the first time that this had happened to her. Janine made connections with this new stage and her recent struggles to break through old restrictive mental conditioning. She thought that the plastic container represented the time she had spent in a boarding school from the age of eight to seventeen. She described this as a very unhappy time for her where she was conditioned to be compliant with authority. This session ended with Janine’s realisation that her geranium plant could not continue to grow if it was left in the plastic container.

In the following session, Janine returned to focus on the little plastic pot. It was clear to her that her plant needed to be repotted in something more individual than a factory-produced plastic container and she imagined a much more suitable replacement in the form of a substantial terracotta pot. As she visualised easing the geranium plant out of its little pot, she found herself flooding with tears - memory upon memory rose to the surface of her time at boarding school. Most of the session was taken up with Janine experiencing waves of emotion and recounting stories of her experience in the repressive regime of the school.

In our last session, Janine was calm and reflective. She had been making sense of her experience of the imagery process and had identified the main theme running through her memories - being forced to comply with the expectations of unempathic authority figures. When she took a final look at her plant form she reported that it was looking less ‘scraggly’ in its new terracotta pot and she realised it was a scented geranium. She concluded that she had reached a point in her life where it was now time for her to rely on her own instincts rather than fall back on an outworn negative script instilled in her by authority figures from the past.

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