There seems to be a move toward a kinder and gentler vision of purgatory than in centuries past. Where St. Gregory the Great wrote of "a purifying fire," the images used in the discussion at CAEI! include a hospital, a mudroom of a house, missing a loved one, a shower before entering a swimming pool.
Perhaps these are better understood as analogies of one purpose of purgatory, rather than the experience. I think we should be reluctant to move too quickly from the traditional language, though. Even more importantly, we shouldn't lose sight of the dogma that in purgatory a debt of temporal punishment is paid:
If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema. [Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 30]
So there seems to be a double character to the experience of purgatory, as St. Gregory's "purifying fire" indicates. There is the fire of punishment along with the purification necessary to see God and live. Not that there are two distinct things going on, but the purification has the character of punishment because it is our own sins that cause the need for purification.