Imagery Based Exposure

One version of imagery exposure involves bringing to mind a recent┬ámemory┬áthat provoked strong negative emotions. Let’s take, for instance, the earlier example of a clinical psychology student being given critical feedback by a supervisor.

In imagery exposure, the person would bring the situation of being given the feedback to mind and remember it in lots of sensory detail (e.g., the supervisor’s tone of voice, what the room looked like). They would also attempt to accurately label the emotions and thoughts they experienced during the interaction, and what their behavioral urges were (e.g., to run out of the room and cry, to get angry, etc.). In prolonged imagery exposure, the person would keep visualizing the image in detail until their level of distress reduced to about half its initial level (say from 8 out of 10 to 4 out of 10).

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Imagery based exposure can help counteract rumination because it helps make intrusive painful memories less likely to trigger rumination. Because of this, it also tends to help reduce avoidance coping. When a person is less distressed by intrusive memories, they’re able to choose healthier coping actions.


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