Mervin Smucker. Using Imagery Rescripting to Enhance Successful Emotional Processing of Trauma with Individuals experiencing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

From an information-processing perspective, PTSD results from inadequate emotional processing of traumatic events, and PTSD will abate once adequate or successful emotional processing has occurred. As such, it is one’s response to trauma – and not the traumatic events themselves – that produces a PTSD syndrome.

Successful emotional processing is generally thought to have occurred when the trauma victim is able to talk about, see, listen to or be reminded of the traumatic events without experiencing distress.  However, many trauma victims use denial, numbing, amnesia, or other dissociative strategies as protection from information overload and the emotional distress associated with their trauma.  While the use of such avoidance responses may have been adaptive survival responses at the time of the traumatic events, and perhaps for a period of time thereafter, their continued, long-term post-trauma use is often a maladaptive avoidance strategy that thwarts or delays successful emotion processing.

In Imagery Rescripting, four conditions are essential for successful emotional processing of traumatic material to occur:  (1) visual and verbal activation of the trauma-related memory, including cognitive, affective, and primary sensory stimuli (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile), (2) transformation of the traumatic imagery into coping/mastery imagery, (3) development of self-calming, self-soothing imagery, and (4) linguistic processing of the transformed imagery and its meaning.

Mervin Smucker