The National Council of Psychotherapists
Case Study using Guided Effective Imagery – Mrs. C.
Mrs. C. presented with memories of having been abused as a child. She had repressed the memories since the abuse ceased, but began having flashbacks soon after her older sister died. She had been married for seven years when she first came for therapy, having been unable to enjoy a normal sex-life since soon after she married. Also, she had been for counselling and had been re-traumatised due to having been forced to repeat accounts of the abuse in detail numerous times.
Having used a combination of free association and fast NLP techniques, we saw an improvement in Mrs. C’s life in general – she had become much more confident and outgoing, achieving promotion to a very responsible position within her profession – but there had been no improvement in her sex-life. Because of the previous re-traumatising by the counselling, it was decided that the abuse should not be recounted once more but guided effective imagery should be used instead. The technique was explained in detail to Mrs. C. who was then asked to visualise herself in a meadow.
Her meadow was large with lush green grass and lots of wildflowers, bordered by a hawthorn hedge. A dark wood was behind her, which she declined to explore choosing, instead, to go forward and through a gate at the bottom of the meadow. She eventually came to a cottage, which she agreed to enter.
This is an account of what followed:-
T. Go to the first door you see. Can you open it?
C. Yes, it’s just before you get to the stairs on the left side of the hall. I’m going in. Oh, what a lovely room. It’s a sitting room. It’s a bit dim – I think I’d better open the curtains. (Mrs. C. then went on to describe the room in detail, even down to the ornaments on the mantelpiece) Oh! What’s that door doing there? It’s a door that looks as if it’s made of floorboards, right in the corner of the room. It looks totally out of place there.
T. Just walk over to the door and see if you can open it.
C. Yes, I can open it but I don’t think I want to! There’s a musty smell coming from it. I don’t like it!
T. Would you like someone to be with you when you open the door?
C. I’d like to get A.(her husband) to help me. (Goes to get him)
T. Can you open the door now?
C. Yes, We’re opening the door and looking through it now. Oh, it’s a cellar. I can see the steps going downwards. It’s quite dark and it smells as if it’s been shut up for a long time.
T. Is there a light switch on the wall anywhere?
C. There’s a switch just over there on the left side. A’s switching it on. There’s a staircase made of bricks going down into a big cellar.
T. Would you like to go down and explore the cellar?
C. No – I’m too scared. (Agrees to go if A. goes with her)
T. That’s right, just walk down the steps into the cellar with A. holding your hand. What do you see at the bottom?
C. There are lots of shelves around the walls, full of what looks like rubbish.
T. Just walk over and have a look at the first shelf. What do you see?
C. A big cardboard box full of crisp packets and sweet wrappers. I wonder that they’re doing here? Oh! He used to bribe me with sweets and crisps to keep my mouth shut.
T. Okay, now just walk around the cellar and explore all the shelves. Keep hold of A’s hand if it helps you to feel safe. Just describe to me what you find.
C. There’s that little pink dress he used to like me in. It’s very dirty and crumpled now. And here are those horrible brown trousers he used to wear. They look greasy and old. Ugh! It’s all horrible down here.
(C. went round the cellar discovering many things associated with the abuser, a note of distaste in her voice each time she described something new.)Then:
C. There’s a doll here in this corner, hiding.
T. What does it look like?
C. It’s dirty and its hair is matted. One of its legs is hanging off and its eyes are closed. It’s one of those dolls that should open its eyes when you sit it up but the eyes seem to be stuck. It’s wearing trousers and a tattered old jumper.
T. Can you pick it up?
C. I can, but I don’t want to. It’s dirty – filthy – ugh! It’s horrible.
T. Okay, just leave it there for the moment. What about all the other rubbish you’ve found in the cellar. What would you like to do with that?
C. I’d like to put it all into black bin bags and get rid of it.
T. Can you do that?
C. Yes, if I don’t have to touch any of it. I’ll ask A. to pick it up while I hold the bags.
T. Are there any bags in the house?
C. Yes, I’m sure there are some under the sink. I’ll go and get them.
(Pause while she fetches the bags)
T. Now just go round the cellar and ask A. to put all that old rubbish into the bags. Take your time and make sure you get rid of all that rubbish. It’s serving no purpose now, just get rid of it all now.
(Long pause to allow for this to happen)
T. Has all the rubbish been put into bags now?
C. Yes, it’s all in bags and we’ve piled it up at the bottom of the steps.
T. What would you like to do with it?
(Mrs. C. says she’d like to burn it in the garden and gets A. to carry it all outside where she sets fire to it using matches found in the kitchen)
T. How does that feel?
C. It feels wonderful! I can feel myself relaxing more now that it’s all burning.
T. Take all the time you need for the fire to burn, destroying all that old rubbish that isn’t needed now. Just watch it burn until all that’s left is a little pile of ash. That’s right. Now, what would you like to happen to the ashes?
C. I’d like to bury them.
T. Can you do that?
C. Yes, I think there’s a spade in the shed. I’ll just go and have a look. Yes, here it is. I’m digging a hole and I’m burying the ashes. Oh, that feels so good!
T. Just take all the time you need to know that all that rubbish has been disposed of and can never bother you again. When you really know that, I’d like you to go back into the house and go down into the cellar again.
C. Why? I don’t want to go back there!
T. I’d like you to go and fetch the doll and bring it up to the sitting room or the kitchen.
C. The kitchen I think – it’s too dirty to put it in the sitting room. Okay – I’ve got it. What shall I do with it?
T. What would you like to do with it?
C. It needs cleaning and mending.
T. Can you clean it and mend it?
C. Yes, I’ve washed it and washed its hair and mended its leg. I need to wrap it up in something, these clothes are no good, they’re too dirty. I’ll use a tea towel from the kitchen drawer. There, that’s better. At least she’s clean now.
T. Oh, it’s a girl doll is it? What’s it called?
C. (Says her own name)
T. What would you like to do with her?
C. I’ll put her in the rocking chair in the spare room, next to my sister’s old teddy bear. He’ll look after her.
T. Would you like to give her a cuddle before you leave her?
C. No, not just now. She’ll be alright there with Teddy.
We ended the session there. In subsequent sessions, using the same technique, Mrs. C. was eventually able to accept the doll and give her a cuddle. She had no more flash-backs to the abuse and her sex life slowly returned to normal.