The process management function

Process management interventions would comprise new elements that are introduced into the client’s image to promote or facilitate helpful therapeutic processes.

Over a period of several years, I have refined two main process management procedures that appear to suit this particular framing image. Both of these are similar to the ones used for the building image but, in this case, are focused on the particular aspects relating to growth and development. In this section I discuss the first procedure of offering temporary structures that are designed to provide security and optimal growing conditions and I then go on to make some comments about the potential for introducing generic helpful figures.

Sometimes clients produce images of plant forms that indicate they might benefit from a process management intervention. These indications are usually self-evident such as: vulnerable young plants that need protection; or plants that, temporarily at least, require controlled growing conditions in order to flourish. In these cases I would suggest that the client can design an appropriate temporary structure to help protect the plant while it grows. Over time, I noted that, unsurprisingly, clients would often produce an image of a greenhouse, and so now I will often suggest this as the template. Usually, this procedure is straightforward but there are some instances where defensive patterns in the self can generate unhelpful versions of this suggested template. An example of such imagery can be seen in the earlier vignette (titled The Tiny Potato Plant) where the client’s fear of exposure resulted in a protective cover that threatened the growth of the plant. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the client’s imagery will suit the purpose for which it was originally intended. In addition, as with all the imagery work presented in this book, it is also important to help the client make connections between the inner image and what this might represent in their life. The two following vignettes illustrate the way that images, representing temporary protection for the plant form, can be incorporated into the client’s imaginal landscape. The first example, titled The Cactus in the Greenhouse, is another extract taken from Sonia’s work seen earlier in the vignette (titled The Cactus in the Snow) where she is considering how she can help herself move on from the negative impact of her experiences at school.

I broached the possibility with Sonia of moving the cactus out of the snow and into a warmer environment. It seemed to me that this move would not pose too big a challenge as it was already growing in a container. Sonia’s immediate response was that the cactus should go into its natural terrain of a desert. However, upon further reflection she came to the conclusion that a sudden and dramatic change of environment would be too much of a shock. I suggested she might consider an intermediate option such as a heated greenhouse that could help the cactus adjust in stages to a change in its environment. Sonia responded positively to this suggestion and was able to visualise placing her cactus plant inside a small greenhouse within the snowy landscape. She interpreted this as her planned move on to a second stage rehabilitation centre. Originally, she had seen this move purely as a pragmatic step that would give her more time in a supported environment to get used to living drug free. However, the picture of a greenhouse implied that there might be an emotional dimension to this next stage. On reflection, Sonia began to consider the possibility that allowing herself to experience the warmth of a supportive community might be a key to releasing herself from earlier damaging experiences of school. Over the next few sessions, Sonia and I used the time to prepare for her move on from the rehabilitation centre. As we did so, she became more committed to the idea she could use the experience of communal living to develop her capacity for establishing and maintaining a network of relationships. By the end of our work together Sonia felt optimistic about the prospects for further psychological growth offered by the next stage of her recovery programme.

The second example, titled The Vulnerable New Plant Shoot, presents another extract from Mick’s work and picks up from the end of the earlier vignette (titled A Single Blade of Grass) which described the impact of an emotionally supportive environment on his sense of self.

I saw Mick for one further session a fortnight later. In the meantime, he had been asked to leave the rehabilitation centre due to an altercation with a member of staff. He had been readmitted after a week and I was pleased to see him in a positive frame of mind. I expressed my concern that his psychological state could have been damaged by leaving the supportive environment of the rehabilitation centre. However, when Mick returned to the image of the new plant shoot, he reported that it had grown a little bit more. He explained that leaving the rehabilitation centre had been a positive experience for him because he had not relapsed on drugs during that time: he had been determined to return to the rehabilitation centre and complete his programme. On closer inspection of the plant form, he began to think that this might not be a single blade of grass but an, as yet, indeterminate plant shoot. We discussed what the plant might need and Mick felt that some form of protection, while it was in its early stages, would be helpful. I suggested he could visualise a temporary structure and he immediately imagined a tall greenhouse forming around the little plant shoot. He reported that it had no roof so that the plant could grow and be open to the rain and air. Mick interpreted the greenhouse structure to be the residential centre and, as long as he followed the programme, his new psychological development would be safe. He expressed his new feelings of optimism, ‘I never thought I would ever get to this point in my life - a point where I would feel that there really was some hope for me. I am even beginning to like myself.’ And, on this optimistic note, we completed the short piece of work we did together.

Linked to the temporary structures discussed above is another potentially useful process management procedure. I sometimes suggest that clients can symbolise a positive helpful part of the self in the form of the figure of a gardener. The client can then interact with this figure in terms of asking for advice on how the plant can be nurtured. Sometimes the figure can be imagined taking care of the plant through watering it and feeding it. This procedure seems to be particular useful when the plant might need significant ongoing attention, e.g. when it is in a nursery or greenhouse.

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