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The first stage of the work

In order to use the building image effectively it is important to gain as detailed an image as possible. The first step is to use the framing function of imagery that will allow the client to map their psychological structure onto the given template of a building. Clients can then be facilitated in some initial exploration of the meaning of their image. This diagnostic procedure will usually take up a whole session and it will lay the grounds for ongoing work.

Bringing the building into view: using the framing function

The following procedure is designed to elicit a clear and detailed initial picture of the exterior of the building. Before commencing, it is best to discuss with clients the concept of translating their sense of themselves into a picture of a building or house. It is important to explain the reason for doing this, i.e. because it can give a very clear overview of their current inner state and reveal where the therapeutic work needs to focus. Sometimes people might think that this method sounds too complicated so it is a good idea to reassure them that this is a simple process. I would usually emphasise that the aim initially is to gain a picture of the outer structure just to see what condition it is in and if it needs any particular attention. It is also important to let clients know that they can stop the procedure at any time if they are feeling uncomfortable (for further elaboration on preparing the client for imagery work please see Chapter 12).

Adapt the following procedure to the individual client. When instructions are followed by bracketed terms, this indicates that you will need to select one that is suitable for your client. Suggested verbatim instructions or questions are given in quotation marks.

  • 1 Make sure the client is sitting comfortably with uncrossed legs and both feet on the floor. Ask them to close their eyes. Then take them through a simple relaxation procedure of your choosing.
  • 2 Ask them to imagine that they are standing somewhere outside with their feet firmly on the ground (if they imagine being inside a building ask them to come outside as it is much more difficult to survey the structure from within). Suggest to them that it is neutral territory and that for the time being the surroundings are unclear. It is not an environment they recognise. Make sure they are imagining themselves actually being there, i.e. not viewing themselves from a third person perspective. I will say something along the lines of: ‘Be in your body. Imagine you can sense the ground under your feet.’
  • 3 Instruct them to silently ask their subconscious mind (inner self, etc.) to begin to show them a house or building directly in front of them that represents their inner psychological structure or, put in simpler terms, what they would look like in the form of a building. Tell them not to worry if it is vague at the beginning because you will help them to see it more clearly. Tell them to accept the first picture that comes and not to censor it. Give them a couple of minutes to begin to get a sense of the building.
  • 4 Tell them you are now going to ask some questions to get a clearer picture of the building. Reassure them at this point that they are not to worry about getting it right but instead just to allow their imagination to produce the image. Adapt the following questions as required to elicit a basic picture.

‘Does the building seem big or small?’

‘Does the building feel modern or old?’

‘What kind of building does it seem to be? Is it a house or a different kind of building?’

‘Does it appear lived in or uninhabited?’

‘Is it by itself or with others?’

‘What kind of landscape is it in?’

By the end of this stage, clients will usually have produced a reasonably clear picture of their inner representational building. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes clients may produce a picture of a house that exists in reality, e.g. their childhood home. If this is the case, it could be one of two possibilities. You will need to very gently explore the significance of this. First, it could be that a very important emotional attachment or trauma is being indicated here that will require therapeutic attention. This issue needs to be addressed and any work on a representational image of the internal structure postponed until this is dealt with. In this case, the rest of the survey procedure should not be followed. Another possibility is that the imaginal perspective has selected this image of a known building because it works as a symbolic expression of the person’s inner structure. In this case you can continue with the rest of the survey. However, using an image of a real house does complicate matters, as it can be confusing for the person to undertake imagery work with a picture of a building that exists in reality.

Something else that might occur at this stage is the complete absence of an image of a representational building. Again there are two possibilities. The first is that the inner structure cannot be symbolised by a conventional structure. Gently inquire if the client is getting hints of a very different kind of structure but is dismissing it because it does not fit with the general idea of a house. Help them focus on this and bring it more into view. Then adapt the following survey appropriately. The other possibility is that there is strong internal resistance to visualising a representational structure; in this case I would usually gently suggest that we abandon the procedure for the time being.

  • 5 Finally get some sense of the client’s initial response and main emotional response to the structure. As a prompt it can sometimes be helpful to remind them that this image represents them. This step is important because it will indicate the fundamental attitude clients are holding towards themselves.
  • 6 Suggest to the client that they are going to have a closer look at their building in order to see it from all angles and to note what condition it is in. Reassure them that whatever they see will be useful information. Direct the survey in the following order, but adapt it as appropriate if the structure is radically different from a house.
  • • Look at the front of the building and check the fabric of walls for holes and cracks or any unusual features. Where is the main entrance to the building - what form does it take? Where are the windows and what condition are they in?
  • • Go all around the outside of the building checking the condition of the sides and back. Take note of any unusual features. Sometimes clients report that they cannot gain access to a part of the external structure, e.g. they might not be able to get around to the back. In such cases it is important to accept that there is some kind of resistance operating and to just work with as much of the building that can be visualised (see Chapter 12 for a more detailed discussion about not over-riding the client’s defences). Note if there are significant differences between the back and the front of the building.
  • • Check the structure and state of the top of the building. In order to do this I might suggest that clients imagine themselves floating up above the building and looking down on it. Get them to clarify if the roof covering is solid or if there are holes or gaps.
  • • Take note of any unusual features. There might be outbuildings or extensions to the building for example. If so ask the client to include these in the initial survey to get a clear picture.
  • • You can ask clients if they can get a sense of what the foundations of the building are like. But don’t press this because it is unlikely to be apparent in a pictorial representation of the outside of the building.
  • • If appropriate, it is also worth asking clients if they get any sense whether the building appears to be inhabited or not.
  • 7 At this point, if appropriate, it can be useful to ask clients what aspect or feature of the building stands out for them or is drawing their attention. This will usually indicate an aspect of the self that needs attention or exploration. There are many possible responses to this question ranging from quite general feelings that are evoked by the building through to noticing quite specific concrete features such as a very small door or a damaged roof. In these latter cases it can be helpful to get clients to begin to make some links between this particular feature and themselves. I would try some general questions along

the lines of: ‘What do you think connected to in your life?’;

‘Can you get any sense of how long that......has been like that?’; or ‘How

do you think that......shows up in your current life?’ Bear in mind that this

is a challenging task as you are asking someone to hold both the rational and imaginal perspectives at the same time and make connections between the two. Therefore if the person struggles to make these links it is best to postpone this until a discussion can take place after the initial diagnostic imagery procedure is over.

  • 8 When the basic survey is complete, advise the client that the process is coming to a close. Ask them to stand in front of the building. It can be useful to give them a minute or so visualising the front of the building. Then instruct them to turn around with their back to the building and create a blank screen.
  • 9 Instruct clients to switch their attention back to their physical body and let them know that you are going to bring them back into their everyday state of mind. Then use a simple standard procedure for bringing their awareness back to everyday consciousness.
  • 10 Finally, at the completion of the procedure, it can be helpful to summarise their account of the building as a preparation for discussion of the experience.
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