An enduring fascination with the therapeutic power of mental images and symbols has shaped my vocation and professional life. Early experiments in creative reflective exercises and therapeutic practice led me into teaching the therapeutic applications of mental imagery to counselling and psychotherapy students, and more lately, to conducting research into its practice. This book is another stage on a journey that began in my early 20s when I came across Carl Jung’s (1968) work in Man and His Symbols and then read Seeing with the Mind’s Eye, the seminal book written by Mike and Nancy Samuels (1975) that helped to introduce the practice of visualisation into popular culture during the 1970s.
Twenty-five years ago I embarked on my profession as a therapist working in the drugs field. In those early years I started to draw on my experience with mental imagery to help clients alleviate some of their physiological drug withdrawal symptoms and also, more significantly, manage and contain some of the difficult accompanying emotional states. Over time, three main themes crystalised in this work: the building image representing psychological structure; the plant image representing personality traits and psychological development; and the path image, which is used to represent living a purposeful life. I was impressed by the way these concrete representations helped substance-misusing clients (from a very diverse range of backgrounds) make sense of and work with their difficulties. Later on I developed this work further with cancer patients and integrated the use of these imagery themes in counselling and psychotherapy with a more general clinical population.
Perhaps I would have remained a practitioner but for a significant change that occurred in the mid-1990s when London experienced an epidemic of crack cocaine misuse. I started to notice a pattern emerging whereby crack cocaine users consistently reported that the roofs of their representational building images were damaged. When I turned to the literature to find an explanation I was not able to find any examples of similar patterns identified by other clinical practitioners. Instead of answers, my search of the relevant literature generated another question - why, despite the large amount of literature within different therapeutic schools, was there so little general treatment of mental imagery? I decided, then, to use the opportunity presented by undertaking a doctorate in psychotherapy to design a research study to identify some commonalities in therapeutic practice with mental imagery. The findings that ensued from a grounded theory study identified the different ways in which mental images operate as communications between the conscious and nonconscious parts of the self. I recall the Eureka moment when I realised that these findings offered a basis for a more inclusive model for general therapeutic practice with imagery.
The therapeutic potential of clients’ mental imagery has been recognised since the inception of psychotherapy. Many of the great clinical innovators of the 20th century have contributed to our understanding of the different ways mental images can facilitate therapeutic processes. At different times its practice has been advanced by particular schools, such as the humanistic therapies in the 1970s and the current explosion of interest within contemporary cognitive behavioural approaches. And yet, there appears to be little obvious interest in developing more inclusive frameworks that would allow integrative therapists a way of drawing on the wide range of methods and procedures developed by different schools and clinical innovators. This book is a modest attempt to address that gap. It presents a coherent framework for inclusive practice with mental imagery and provides a guide for a deeper integration of its practice within talking therapies - an integration where working with the client’s mental images is regarded as an intrinsic part of the therapeutic process. This is the guidebook I was looking for at the beginning of my therapeutic practice.
Jung, C., von Franz, M-L., et al. (1968). Man and His Symbols, New York: Dell Publishing. Samuels, M. and Samuels, N. (1975). Seeing with the Mind’s Eye: The history, techniques,
and uses of visualization, New York: Random House.