An Interview with Mervin Smucker, PH.D.

Dr. Mervin Smucker is an internationally renowned clinician, consultant, and trainer in the field of trauma. Dr. Mervin Smucker has conducted training seminars around the world on imagery rescripting, an application of cognitive behavior therapy, which has proven effective in cases of trauma and (PTSD).

Question: What is imagery rescripting?

Dr. Smucker: Imagery rescripting is an original treatment that I developed with colleagues in the early 1990s as an effective form of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Clients with PTSD often see repeated upsetting images of their original trauma in their minds. Such image-rich scenarios can play out vividly, engaging all of the senses and appearing as a scenario in the present rather than in the past. Imagery rescripting helps clients to move beyond these repeat multi-sensory experiences by providing a new script or modification that enables them to replace victimization images with mastery images, and to develop self-compassionate imagery by means of visualizing oneself as a competent, capable individual today calming, soothing, nurturing, and reassuring one’s “traumatized self” back then.

Question: Please describe the process.

Dr. Smucker: A session may last 60 to 90 minutes and includes three phases. In the first phase, we have the client visualize and describe the distressing imagery, including all of the sensations and emotions that accompany it. We call this imaginal reliving. In the second phase, the client develops mastery imagery by challenging, confronting, modifying, and replacing the distressing images with coping/empowering images. Finally, in phase three the client visualizes him-herself as a competent, empowered individual today calming, soothing, comforting the “traumatized self” back then.

Question: Can you give an example of this?

Dr. Smucker: Suppose a childhood abuse victim is reliving experience through repeated flashbacks. The client may see herself as an adult today entering the abuse scene and confronting (physically, verbally) and disempowering the perpetrator, and then visualizing taking the CHILD to safety where the ADULT can visually offer nurturance and reassurance to the CHILD.

Question: How long does the process take to work?

Dr. Smucker: The standard treatment is eight sessions. However, it may only take a few sessions, depending on the type of trauma. We encourage the client to listen to audio recordings of the session every day until their next session. This helps to reinforce the newly-created mastery images from the previous session.

Mervin Smucker