Mervin Smucker's WordPress Blog

Mervin R. Smucker, Ph.D., is an Experienced Psychologist

Imagery to Assist Cognitive Restructuring

FAQ: Using Imagery to Assist in Cognitive Restructuring of Trauma In 2001, Dr. Mervin R. Smucker, a psychologist who graduated with a B.A. from Antioch College and a Ph.D. in psychology from Pennsylvania State University, held a workshop on using imagery to improve the results of exposure and cognitive restructuring for victims recovering from abuse and assault. The following is a brief overview of the information presented.

Much like the techniques he promotes, Dr. Mervin R. Smucker utilized visuals such as video demonstrations in conjunction with lectures and case examples to advocate his use of imagery as a means of therapeutic recovery. He explained that the goal is to first rely on imagery to gain access to cognitions related to assault, such as memories, schemas, and flashbacks. Moving forward, he advocates imagery to challenge those cognitions and finally modify them. Dr. Smucker’s use of imagery to modify cognitions was particularly fascinating. He described how patients were taught concepts such as self-nurturing imagery, which aided in reducing traumatic memories and replacing them with mastery imagery, giving patients control over their flashbacks and memories.

Those interested in learning more about the techniques discussed in the highly recommended workshop should read the doctor’s works, which include Cognitive Behavioral Treatment for Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma: Imagery Rescripting and Reprocessing.


War and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, by Mervin Smucker

War veterans represent the population hardest hit by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Characterized as a type of prolonged anxiety that results from exposure to a traumatic event, PTSD affects thousands of soldiers each year, and is much more prevalent in times of war or combat. Individuals who suffer from this disorder can experience a myriad of symptoms that may vary in severity, including flashbacks, nightmares, night terrors, emotional outbursts, anger management problems, generalized anxiety, mood swings, depression, hopelessness, and despair.

According to many medical professionals, individuals exposed to combat or war-like settings experience a surge in fight–or-flight responses. With heightened senses and awareness while  in this state of mind, every detail and nuance is recorded in the brain. When a traumatic or stressful event occurs, the memory is then deeply embedded in the memory functions of the brain. As a result, PTSD sufferers have trouble forgetting even the most minute details of the traumatic event(s). Individuals may relive the occurrence again and again, as though it were happening today, and with each “re-living,” they re-experience the emotions and stressors that were present at the time of the traumatic event. Unfortunately, many individuals go into combat unprepared for what they will see and experience. War veterans face unique hurdles in overcoming this disorder.  However, with professional assistance, it is possible for traumatized war veterans to eventually get beyond their PTSD and, in many instances, move on and attain relatively productive and fulfilling lives.

About the Author:
Known for his work in the area of posttraumatic stress, Mervin Smucker has contributed to the implementation of a range of clinical techniques, including imagery rescripting, to assist individuals who are attempting to cope with and process past traumas. For over 30 years, Dr. Smucker has been a trainer, clinician, instructor, and consultant. Mervin Smucker has also conducted research on other disorders, and has published much of his research in numerous national and international medical journals.

Imagery Rescripting as a Therapeutic Agent for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, by Mervin Smucker, Ph.D.

Mervin Smucker, Ph.D. pioneered the field of imagery restructuring as a component of cognitive behavior therapy. In the following, Dr. Mervin Smucker discusses imagery rescripting as a therapeutic agent for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mental imagery often plays a key role in anxiety disorders. While clients seeking treatment for anxiety disorders such as PTSD often share verbal thoughts, they may leave out mental imagery unless prompted by their therapists. However, these mental images are present in all anxiety disorders and the images that patients see often relate to their main fears as a result of the disorder. For instance, in PTSD, intense mental imagery occurs during flashbacks of the precipitating event. Dr. Smucker emphasizes that imagery is important because it has a powerful effect on negative emotion, and cognitive behavior studies show it actually has more of an impact than verbal processing.

In cognitive behavior therapy, which has proven effective for treating PTSD, imagery rescripting is often used to help clients overcome the negative images they may experience via flashbacks and/or nightmares. In imagery rescripting, the existing trauma-related images and their meanings are transformed into mastery/coping images that help the client to feel more empowered and in control. In order for this approach to be effective, therapists must first establish a trusting environment in which the client feels safe. Once the safe environment is established, the therapist guides and accompanies the client through the upsetting imagery via three phases: (1) Imaginal Reliving – visually activating and verbally describing the upsetting images in vivid detail (including the entire memory network and associated affect), (2) Mastery Imagery – replacing victimization imagery with mastery/coping imagery via challenging, confronting, and modifying the distressing images, (3) Self-Compassionate Imagery – visualizing oneself as an empowered individual today nurturing, soothing, comforting, reassuring the “traumatized self” back then.

Imagery rescripting benefits the client in many ways, which includes facilitating expression and organization of feelings, enabling the client to reach closure, decreasing flashbacks, nightmares, and other PTSD-related anxiety symptoms, and improving overall post-trauma adjustment.

Penn State’s Graduate Program in Psychology

Psychologist Dr. Mervin R. Smucker earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), where the Department of Psychology, located at the University Park campus, only accepts application from candidates to the doctoral program; although in many cases students earn a Master’s degree in the course of their studies.

Each year, Penn State’s Department of Psychology accepts a select group of applicants. In 2010, the admissions officials allowed 22 students to join the program, which includes about 100 graduate scholars. At the start of their tenure, students must select a major from five choices: Social, Industrial-Organizational, Clinical, Cognitive, and Developmental. They can then select a minor if they so desire, but the program does not require it.

The graduate psychology program consists of a variety of learning methods, including practical experience, research, coursework, and a dissertation, which must be completed by the end of the fifth year. The usual path for students includes taking classes during the first few years and finishing a comprehensive exam at the end of the third year. To fund psychology studies, some students serve as graduate assistants, working about 20 hours each week. Other financial aid comes from collaborating with professors on grant-funded research, private scholarships, and training grants.

Dr. Mervin R. Smucker followed the clinical track while engaging in his graduate studies at Penn State. He wrote a dissertation entitled, “The Children’s Depression Inventory: Norms and Psychometric Analysis.” Unlike some graduate programs for psychology, Penn State’s clinical training serves professionals who seek to engage in research in addition to treating patients. The institution’s faculty dissuades students who wish to concentrate solely on private practice. The clinical section of the program includes the scientific method, as well as intervention and assessment. Upon completion of the dissertation and the awarding of the Ph.D., students should be qualified for licensure in most U.S. states.

For more information about Penn State’s graduate psychology program, visit

Antioch College

by Mervin Smucker

Before launching his career as a clinical psychologist and researcher, Mervin R. Smucker received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Foreign Languages from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Established in 1852 by the Christian Connection, a religious movement in the United States during the 1800s, Antioch College opened its doors in 1853. Antioch College, the primary institution within the Antioch University system, remains known for providing students with written evaluations instead of traditional letter grades.

During its early years, Antioch College instructed students in traditional subjects such as history, philosophy, mathematics, Latin, and Greek. Students also earned the opportunity to choose among electives in modern languages, botany, art, and pedagogy. Horace Mann, the first president of Antioch College, delivered a commencement speech in 1859 that included the current motto of the school: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

Today, the curriculum at Antioch College has expanded to include a wide array of fields and a special emphasis on interdisciplinary study. Divided into four areas of concentration–arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences—the academics at Antioch College focus on providing students with a well-rounded liberal arts education. Antioch College also offers a number of global seminars designed to introduce students to global issues that extend beyond the reach of the classroom. The seminars, which often feature notable guest speakers and visitors, help students discover their passions and prepare them for their lives as global citizens.

Students at Antioch College also benefit from a co-op work program, which requires them to work in full-time positions every other term and collect college credit. In the past, students have held positions within a wide variety of organizations, including nonprofit organizations, hospitals, museums, and government agencies. Through its co-op work program, Antioch College hopes to provide students with a diverse range of experiences in both academic and professional settings. By leaving campus and working with real-world organizations, students mature and develop valuable leadership and problem-solving skills, as well as a clearer picture of their goals.