„One picture is worth 10,000 words“ (Ancient Chinese Proverb)
In traditional cognitive-behavioural therapy, a range of verbal techniques are used to identify, challenge, and modify critical thoughts and beliefs associated with negative affect. However, sometimes an individual’s memory of an upsetting event, as well as the beliefs and affect asossciated with the event, are encoded in imagery rather than in words. When this is the case, the skillful application of imagery techniques can provide unique access to an individual’s underlying cognitive structures in ways that verbal techniques cannot.
When individuals experience a trauma, not only are their emotions associated with the trauma at a more primitive level (primary process), but the meaning of the traumatic event remains at a primitive level as well. Thus, while the individual might attempt to gain a more rational perspective on the traumatic event, simply talking about the event or trying to evaluate it rationally (secondary process) is often not enough. In order for individuals to be liberated from their recurring, upsetting images, the images associated with the traumatic event often need to be „relived“ and re-experienced, then challenged and modified in several stages within a therapeutic setting.
Dr. Mervin Smucker is an international trauma consultant and author of numerous articles and books on trauma and cognitive-behavioural therapy interventions.