Imagery rescripting is a technique for working with traumatic or bothersome images, or for working with beliefs about yourself. The images might be memories from your childhood or adulthood, they could be nightmares, or they might be other forms of image such as imagined events. Imagery rescripting is an experiential technique – this means that it involves working directly with emotionally laden ‘hot’ images as opposed to simply ‘talking about’ such images or experiences.

There is strong evidence that imagery rescripting is an effective treatment for a wide variety of conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), nightmares, depression, social anxiety, eating disorders and personality disorders.

What does imagery rescripting involve?
There are different forms of imagery rescripting. When working with memories of abusive experiences, one common format involves three phases:

Imagining the traumatic event in some detail (imaginal reliving)
Imagining that the client, or somebody else, intervenes and changes the outcome (mastery imagery)
Imagining the client being offered reassurance (soothing / corrective imagery)

Imagery rescripting can take other forms too. For example, when working with a memory of childhood abuse:

The client may watch the childhood memory and then (in imagery) enter the image as an adult and intervene
The client may watch the childhood memory and then watch as the therapist enters the image to intervene
The client may watch the childhood memory and may invite helpers to intervene

How does imagery rescripting work?
Mental images can produce strong emotional reactions, and emotions are often associated with spontaneous images. Psychological research tells us that the brain responds in a similar way to real and imagined events. This is why imagining making changes to a sequence of events, in imagery, can lead to changes in how we are feeling. It does not seem to matter that the events we imagine did not actually happen. There are a number of theories about why imagery rescripting is effective:

Imagery rescripting allows us to express ‘action tendencies’ that were inhibited at the time of the trauma (e.g. there may have been things that we wanted to do at the time of the trauma but were not able to)
Imagery rescripting can allow us to regain a sense of control
Imagery rescripting allows us to see memories in a new light – to gain new perspectives on an experience (either to change the meaning of the old memory, or to create a new meaning)