A 2013 study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found a unique way to use sexual trauma survivors’ own imagery to reduce their feeling of being contaminated, which is a common experience in such cases.7 Researchers used a two-session treatment protocol called Cognitive Restructuring and Imagery Modification (CRIM) with 34 women with a history of childhood sexual abuse and PTSD.

Among other features, the intervention involves imagery of patients shedding their “contaminated” skin. As compared to a wait-list group, the CRIM participants had much greater reductions in the vividness and distress related to the contamination imagery, as well as a large reduction in PTSD symptoms.

Study co-author Kerstin Jung, PhD, of Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany, says one reason that imagery-based interventions can be effective is that they resonate on an emotional level, rather than solely on a logical level — to which talk therapy is often limited.


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“Treatment targeting mental images have been reported to successfully induce clinical improvement in various psychological disorders,” says Krans. “Given the common presence of intrusive cognitions or images, and preliminary evidence for the effectiveness of imagery-based interventions,” they may grow to have an increased role in clinical practice.

Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC, is a psychotherapist and freelancer writer based in Atlanta.

References

  1. Vlemincx E, Van Diest I, Van den Bergh O. Emotion, sighing, and respiratory variability. Psychophysiology. 2015; 52(5):657-66.
  2. Christian BM, Parkinson C, Macrae CN, et al. When imagining yourself in pain, visual perspective matters: the neural and behavioral correlates of simulated sensory experiences. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 2015; 27(5):866-75.
  3. Broadbent E, Kahokehr A, Booth RJ, et al. A brief relaxation intervention reduces stress and improves surgical wound healing response: A randomised trial. Brain, Behavior and Immunity. 2012; 26(2):212-7.
  4. Krans J, de Bree J, Moulds M. Involuntary cognitions in everyday life: exploration of type, quality, content, and function. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015; 6: 7.
  5. Morina N, Leibold E, Ehring T. Vividness of general mental imagery is associated with the occurrence of intrusive memories. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 2013; 44(2):221-6.
  6. Christian BM, Parkinson C, Macrae CN, et al. When Imagining Yourself in Pain, Visual Perspective Matters: The Neural and Behavioral Correlates of Simulated Sensory Experiences. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 2015; 27(5):866-75.
  7. Jung K, Steil R. A randomized controlled trial on cognitive restructuring and imagery modification to reduce the feeling of being contaminated in adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 2013; 82(4):213-20