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I Towards more inclusive theory

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An historical perspective on the therapeutic use of imagination

Over the last three decades, one of the main directions in counselling and psychotherapy has been towards increasing theoretical convergence. However, there is little evidence for more inclusive theorising regarding the therapeutic use of mental imagery. Since the faculty of imagining appears to be implicated in all creative processes, why has the study and development of mental imagery procedures remained confined within the parameters of particular schools and approaches? The first two chapters of this book attempt to shed some light on this puzzle by situating this practice in a much wider historical and cultural context. In particular, the discussion will focus on how this therapeutic application has been, and, even more importantly, still is, impacted by the advent of Cartesian dualism and the establishment of a scientific worldview. In order to capture a large and complex landscape, I have taken a broad-brush approach that identifies the main themes pertinent to this question, drawing on scholarly work by experts on the history of imagination as a healing modality, particularly McMahon (1976; McMahon and Hastrup, 1980) and Achterberg (2002).

This chapter begins by explaining how the faculty of imagining lost its role in the treatment of physical illnesses; a radical change neatly captured in the statement by McMahon and Hastrup, ‘In the predualistic era the expression “It’s all in your imagination” signified a key medical principle. In the modern era it came to signify justification for dismissing the patient as untreatable’ (1980: 206). The following chapter then goes on to consider how the use of mental imagery was reprised as a therapeutic procedure for treating psychological problems and how this developed over the course of the 20th century.

 
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