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Imagery and Imagery Rescripting

The use of imagery has a long history in psychotherapy. In the eighteenth century, Mesmer and the early practitioners of hypnosis practiced the therapeutic use of imagination and suggestion, although they wrongly attributed the effects to animal magnetism. In the nineteenth century Pierre Janet pioneered the use of imagery interventions to work with individuals who had experienced trauma, using techniques to substitute positive images for traumatic ones. Throughout the twentieth century imagery techniques were widely practiced by therapists using hypnosis, including the development of the widely used ‘affect bridge’ technique by John Watkins (1971). Carl Jung’s use of imagery was inspired by his own vivid dreams, and imagery and dramatization were present in Perls’ Gestalt therapy. David Edwards has given an number of excellent accounts of the use of imagery in psychotherapy (Edwards, 2007, 2011). Read more
Imagery and Imagery Rescripting
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Audio Collection: Psychology Tools For Developing Self-Compassion

Psychology Tools For Developing Self-Compassion is an audio collection which guides clients through an empirically-supported programme of compassionat ...

Audio Collection: Psychology Tools For Relaxation

The Psychology Tools For Relaxation Audio Collection is designed to help anyone experiencing stress or heightened physiological arousal. The audio col ...

Drawing Your Feelings (CYP)

Enhancing a child’s vocabulary for their feelings is one way of helping them to understand and learn to manage their internal world. The Drawing You ...

Grounding Techniques

Individuals who have experienced trama often find it difficult to stay within the 'window of tolerance'. Grounding techniques (which can be sensory/pe ...

Hotspot Record

Enhanced 'reliving' in trauma-focused CBT for PTSD involves addressing the meaning associated with 'hot spots' of traumatic memory. This Hotspot Recor ...

Nightmare Exposure And Rescripting

Imagery rescripting is an effective treatment for intrusive and unwanted memories. Nightmare Exposure And Rescripting employs similar techniques and c ...

Nightmare Rescripting (Audio)

Nightmare rescripting is an evidence based treatment for nightmares, with medium to large effect sizes on nightmare frequency, distress, intensity, an ...

Peaceful Place (Audio)

The Peaceful Place exercise guides the listener through a short imagery exercise designed to facilitate the visualization of soothing imagery and noti ...

Rewind Technique

The Rewind Technique is a simple technique for processing traumatic memories and involves an element of exposure. It is best practiced within a formul ...

What Is Imagery Rescripting?

Unwanted images are a feature common to a variety of problems including PTSD and depression. Imagery rescripting is an evidence-based treatment techni ...

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  • Instructions for building a compassionate image | Gilbert | 2007

Treatment Guide

  • Imagery rescripting therapy (description) | Common Language For Psychotherapy, Smucker
  • Like a phoenix from the ashes: How to disentangle from negative memories and thoughts (imagery rescripting) | Moritz, Hottenrott

Recommended Reading

  • Holmes, E. A., Matthews, A. (2010). Mental imagery in emotion and emotional disorders. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 349-362.
  • Wild, J., Hackmann, A., Clark, D. (2008). Rescripting early memories linked to negative images in social phobia: a pilot study. Behaviour Therapy, 39(1), 47-56.
  • Smucker, Dancu, Foa & Niederee (1995) Imagery Rescripting: A new treatment for survivors of childhood sexual abuse suffering from post-traumatic stress. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 9(1), 3-17.
  • Brewin, C. R., Wheatley, J., Patel, T., Fearon, P., Hackmann, A., Wells, A., Fisher, P., Myers, S. (2009). Imagery rescripting as a brief stand-alone treatment for depressed patients with intrusive memories. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47(7), 569-576
  • Arntz, A., Kindt, M., & Tiesema, M. (2007). Treatment of PTSD: A comparison of imaginal exposure with and without imagery rescripting. Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.
  • Moritz, S., Ahlf-Schumacher, J., Hottenrott, B., Peter, U., Franck, S., Schnell, T., … & Jelinek, L. (2018). We cannot change the past, but we can change its meaning. A randomized controlled trial on the effects of self-help imagery rescripting on depression. Behaviour research and therapy, 104, 74-83.
  • Long, M. E., Davis, J. L., Springer, J. R., Elhai, J. D., Rhudy, J. L., Teng, E. J., & Frueh, B. C. (2011). The role of cognitions in imagery rescripting for posttraumatic nightmares. Journal of clinical psychology, 67(10), 1008-1016
  • Long, M. E., Quevillon, R. (2009). Imagery rescripting in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 23, 67-76.
  • Holmes, E. A., Arntz, A., Smucker, M. R. (2009). Imagery rescripting in cognitive behaviour therapy: Images, treatment techniques and outcomes. Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.
  • Hackmann, A. (2011). Imagery rescripting in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Cognitive and Behavioural Practice, 18(4), 424-432.
  • Edwards, D. (2007). Restructuring implicational meaning through memory-based imagery: Some historical notes. Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 38, 306-316
  • Imagery rehearsal therapy: principles and practice | Krakow, B., & Zadra, A. | 2010
  • Imagery rescripting: A new treatment for survivors of childhood sexual abuse suffering from posttraumatic stress | Smucker, Dancu, Foa, Niederee | 1995

What Is Imagery?

Although cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is portrayed as being concerned with thoughts, it has a long history of attending to client images and the meaning contained within them. There is evidence that imagery can produce more powerful emotional responses than verbal representations (Holmes et al., 2006). It is often claimed that imagery work can lead to changes in felt emotion, and that it can be especially useful when clients are stuck using cognitive techniques alone: ‘I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t feel it.’

Hackmann, Bennett-Levy, and Holmes (2011) identify a taxonomy of approaches for working with imagery:

Direct techniques Indirect techniques
Techniques that address negative imagery · Evocation of imagery (exposure)

· Manipulation of imagery

· Learning to discriminate between imagery and reality

· Transformation of images, memories, and dreams

· Working with metaphorical imagery

·Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy

·Other metacognitive approaches

·Tasks which compete with imagery

Techniques that promote positive imagery · Positive imagery of goals and skills

· Positive imagery of new ways of being (e.g., rehearsal of new ways of coping)

·Positive interpretation training via imagery

Techniques for Using Imagery in Therapy

Imagery interventions commonly used in therapy include:

  • Assessing metacognitive beliefs about having imagery that may be responsible for some of the distress clients feel about experiencing imagery, and the ways in which they react to having imagery (Wells, 2000).
  • Cognitive restructuring within reliving (‘Enhanced reliving’) for PTSD where patients are helped to insert new and incompatible information into memories of peritraumatic ‘hotspots’ (Grey, Young, & Holmes, 2002).
  • Compassionate imagery is commonly used within compassion-focused therapy (CFT) interventions to foster a sense of self-compassion and to help patients to access different social mentalities (‘mindsets’) (Gilbert, 2010).
  • Exposure, relaxation, and rescripting therapy (ERRT) which is an intervention for post-trauma nightmares. ERRT involves psychoeducation about trauma and sleep hygiene, progressive muscle relaxation, symptom monitoring, writing about nightmares, identifying trauma themes, and altering the nightmare and rehearsing the new script (Davis & Wright, 2005).
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) where imagery of traumatic events is combined with bilateral stimulation to aid ‘processing’ of traumatic events (Shapiro, 2001).
  • Imaginal desensitization in which a feared stimulus is held in imagination until the patient habituates (Wolpe, 1958).
  • Imaginal flooding in which a feared stimulus is repeatedly presented in imagery at high intensity without reinforcement and without any counterconditioning process (Stampfl & Levis, 1967).
  • Imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT) which is often used in the treatment of trauma-related nightmares (Krakow et al., 2001).
  • Imagery rescripting which has been used in the treatment of Axis II disorders and is commonly used in the treatment of symptoms of PTSD including flashbacks and nightmares (Arntz & Weertman, 1999; Smucker, Dancu, Foa, & Niederee, 1995). There is also evidence that is can be used as a standalone intervention for depression (Wheatley et al., 2007).
  • ‘Reliving’ of traumatic memories in PTSD where patients with PTSD are asked to ‘relive’ a traumatic event and to recall details as vividly as possible (e.g., Foa & Rothbaum, 1998).
  • The rewind technique or visual-kinesthetic dissociation (VK Dissociation) is frequently used by practitioners of NLP and is often taught as a standalone treatment for trauma/PTSD (Koziey & McLeod, 1987).


  • Arntz, A. and Weertman, A. (1999). Treatment of childhood memories: Theory and practice. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 37(8), 715–740.
  • Davis, J. L., & Wright, D. C. (2005). Case series utilizing exposure, relaxation, and rescripting therapy: Impact on nightmares, sleep quality, and psychological distress. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 3(3), 151–157.
  • Edwards, D. (2007). Restructuring implicational meaning through memory-based imagery: Some historical notes. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 38(4), 306–316.
  • Edwards, D. (2011). Invited essay: From ancient shamanic healing to twenty first century psychotherapy: The central role of imagery methods in effecting psychological change. In A. Hackmann, J, Bennett-Levy, & E. A. Holmes (Eds.), Oxford guide to imagery in cognitive therapy (pp. xxxiii–xlii). New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Foa, E. B., & Rothbaum, B. O. (1998). Treatment manuals for practitioners. Treating the trauma of rape: Cognitive-behavioral therapy for PTSD. New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.
  • Gilbert, P. (2010). Compassion focused therapy. CBT Distinctive Features Series. New York: Routledge.
  • Grey, N., Young, K., & Holmes, E. (2002). Cognitive restructuring within reliving: A treatment for peritraumatic emotional ‘hotspots’ in posttraumatic stress disorder. Behaviouraland Cognitive Psychotherapy, 30(1), 37–56.
  • Hackmann, A., Bennett-Levy, J., & Holmes, E. A. (2011). Oxford guide to imagery in cognitive therapy. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Holmes, E. A., Mathews, A., Dalgleish, T., & Mackintosh, B. (2006). Positive interpretation training: Effects of mental imagery versus verbal training on positive mood. Behavior Therapy37(3), 237-247.
  • Koziey, P. W., & McLeod, G. L. (1987). Visual-kinesthetic dissociation in treatment of victims of rape. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 18(3), 276–282.
  • Krakow, B., Hollifield, M., Johnston, L., Koss, M., Schrader, R., Warner, T. D., … & Prince, H. (2001). Imagery rehearsal therapy for chronic nightmares in sexual assault survivors with posttraumatic stress disorder: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 286(5), 537–545.
  • Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Smucker, M. R., Dancu, C., Foa, E. B., & Niederee, J. L. (1995). Imagery rescripting: A new treatment for survivors of childhood sexual abuse suffering from post-traumatic stress. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 9(1), 3–17.
  • Stampfl, T., & Levis, D. J. (1967). Essentials of implosive therapy: A learning-theory-based psychodynamic behavioral therapy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 72(6), 496–503.
  • Watkins, J. G. (1971). The affect bridge: A hypnoanalytic technique. The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis19(1), 21-27.
  • Wheatley, J., Brewin, C. R., Patel, T., Hackmann, A., Wells, A., Fisher, P., & Myers, S. (2007). I’ll believe it when I can see it: Imagery rescripting of intrusive sensory memories in depression. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 38(4), 371–85.
  • Wells, A. (2000). Emotional Disorders and Metacognition: A practical manual and conceptual guide.
  • Wolpe, J. (1958). Psychotherapy by reciprocal inhibition. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.