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

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“Imagery Rescripting and Reprocessing Therapy and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” by Dr. Mervin Smucker

An innovative form of treatment, Imagery Rescripting and Reprocessing Therapy, or IRRT, uses imagery-focused interventions to relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The genesis of the method comes from the belief that much of the reaction to a traumatic event occurs through sensations and images rather than words. Therefore, treating PTSD solely through language becomes difficult.

Through IRRT, clients simultaneously undergo imaginal reliving, which reactivates the traumatic memory, and imaginal imagery, which uses coping imagery to alter the traumatic memory. During this process, patients change the negative experience into a positive one that re-imagines them as empowered individuals rather than victims. Successful IRRT sessions transform how people react to the event and eliminate related feelings such as powerlessness, culpability, and incompetence.

About the Author:

An international trainer, consultant, and lecturer, Dr. Mervin R. Smucker hosts cognitive behavioral therapy trauma workshops and seminars across the world. The creator of IRRT, Dr. Mervin Smucker wrote about its benefits in caring for people with PTSD in 2012.


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.