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

Tag Archives: Imagery Rescripting

Dr. Mervin Smucker: Underlying Cognitive Processes of Imagery Rescripting

Best known for his development of imagery rescripting, a clinically proven treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, Dr. Mervin R. Smucker has focused his career on developing and refining this system. He has traveled the world training practitioners in this method, while writing and publishing extensively on the topic.

Centered on transforming maladaptive schemas, imagery rescripting actively alters the mental response to a damaging memory. For many who suffer from PTSD, these memories both encourage and are affected by a sense of victimization. These individuals may feel that they are inherently worthless or bad, or that they are helpless and vulnerable in the face of the world. These schemas are so ingrained that they form the basis for the person’s response not only to the memories of the event but to stimuli in the present.

For this reason, imagery rescripting seeks to change this schema and replace it with one in which the person is able to cope. The treating professional begins by calling up memories of the event, which is then relived in the therapeutic environment. However, images are also introduced in which the person responds constructively to the event. This reprograms the original maladaptive schemas and replaces them with a sense of self-worth and capability.

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.