After a specific intrusive traumatic memory has been identified and targeted for rescripting, a brief description of IRRT is offered to the client, which may be paraphrased in the therapist’s own words:
IRRT is designed to help you to process and master your traumatic memories and leave you feeling more in control of your life. Much of our work will involve the use of imagery; that is, asking you to visually recall and re-experience the traumatic images, thoughts, and feelings that you experience during a flashback (or nightmare). You will then confront and transform the traumatic images into coping imagery. The aim is for you to replace your victimization imagery with mastery imagery, so that you can see and feel yourself responding to your trauma no longer as a victim, but as an empowered individual. This, of course, does not change the traumatic event itself or what really happened, but it can change the images, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that you have about the trauma.
Mervin Smucker (2012)
IRRT is an imagery-based CBT treatment designed to alleviate PTSD symptoms and modify trauma-related images, beliefs and schemas. IRRT involves three phases of imagery:
- imaginal reliving – visually recalling and re-experiencing the traumatic imagery along with the associated thoughts, affect, and bodily sensations accompanied by the creation of a detailed, descriptive, verbal narrative;
- mastery imagery – visualizing oneself as a competent and capable ADULT (today) successfully confronting and disempowering the perpetrator (back then) while rescuing the CHILD from the trauma scene;
- self-calming/self-nurturing imagery – visualizing oneself as an ADULT (today) calming, soothing, and nurturing the traumatized CHILD (back then).
Through this 3-phase imaginal symbolic “psychodrama” (on the “inner stage”), the trauma material is initially activated and experienced through the eyes of the “traumatized child,” and then challenged, modified, and reprocessed through the eyes of the “empowered adult” today. Replacing victimization imagery with mastery imagery enables trauma victims to experience themselves responding to the traumatic event as an empowered individual today no longer “frozen” in a state of helplessness, uncertainty, and confusion. In addition, the overwhelming emotional and physiological distress that often accompanies trauma memories is replaced with positive feelings of self-nurturing and self-calm. Thus, through the re-living, re-scripting, and re-processing of the trauma memory, successful emotional and cognitive processing of the traumatic event may occur, allowing the individual’s response to the traumatic event to normalize.
Mervin Smucker (2012)
You can find a presentation about IRRT here: Mervin Smucker IRRT Presentation