Imagery Rescripting (ImRS)

Imagery Rescripting (ImRS)

What is Imagery Rescripting (ImRS)?

Imagery Rescripting (ImRS) is an experiential technique that uses visual imagery to update unwanted and painful memories.

Using imagery in therapy was first pioneered by Pierre Janet in 1889. Jeffrey Young utilised and expanded the technique into imagery rescripting, initially as a step in schema therapy which he then adapted into a stand alone therapy known as ImRS.

Imagery rescripting aims to assist the client to:

  • Develop understanding around the origins of their core issues
  • Connect their current issues to their developmental origins (make connections between current presenting issues and negative or upsetting childhood experiences)
  • Develop compassion for their child self (and ultimately compassion for their adult self)
  • Shift unhelpful core beliefs about themselves, others, or the world
  • Begin the process of assisting the client to compassionately meet their own needs

Imagery rescripting is not about assigning blame, but developing self-compassion.

When applied to trauma, evidence has shown that Imagery Rescripting is as effective as treating complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) - a current popular trauma treatment.

The goal of imagery rescripting:

The goal of the imagery rescripting is to lay the painful memories and associated feelings to rest. By being “laid to rest” the individual will hopefully find:

  • They are not as attached to the memory anymore
  • They are not as distressed by the memory
  • The emotional intensity associated with the memory is reduced
  • The memory or image is less frightening/overwhelming
  • The memory or image is triggered less often or at barely all
  • Reduction in or disappearance of nightmares

What is ImRS useful for?

  • Upsetting or unwanted memories
  • PTSD and cPTSD
  • Nightmares
  • Phobias

What about false memories?

Imagery rescripting is NOT about uncovering repressed or forgotten memories. Therapies that uncover repressed/forgotten memories are highly controversial and have been shown to create false trauma memories.

Skillful trauma therapists will avoid implanting false memories by:

  • Never leading the client (suggesting that a particular type of trauma may have occurred, providing possible details or specifics, suggesting possible perpetrators etc.)
  • Avoiding the suggestion of repressed memories

Imagery rescripting is instead focusing on processing the memories that the client already has but is avoiding thinking about or talking about

Isn’t memory unreliable?

This is a tricky one. In short, yes. Memory (especially when it comes to specifics) can be unreliable. That said, it is our experience that individuals with genuine trauma consistently doubt the legitimacy of their trauma or the accuracy of it. The potential inaccuracies of memories has also unfortunately been used to undermine legitimate claims of abuse.

Schema imagery is not about establishing the specifics or assigning blame, it is about processing the feelings associated with the memory, that is, the client’s individual experience of the memory.

For example, let’s say a person named Emily has upsetting memories of her father yelling at her as a child. As an adult, Emily may come to find that her father had hearing difficulties, causing him to talk in a raised voice. Regardless of the facts of the matter, Emily has developed experiences/memories of being yelled at that may have shaped how she sees the self and the world.

Imagery rescripting is ideal when:

  • It is being delivered by an experienced trauma therapist
  • The client trusts and feels safe with the therapist
  • The client has at least one healthy self-soothing skill
  • The therapist and client have discussed the pros and cons of imagery rescripting and make a joint decision to proceed (cons being temporary worsening of distress of PTSD symptoms)

How does it work?

Often (but not always), the therapist will commence by using imagery to assist the client to find a safe place. This is a place in which the client feels grounded.

For a safe place imagery exercise, go to:

This safe place can be used as an anchor point, typically before and after imagery rescripting.

In a typical schema imagery session, the client will be asked to visualise an upsetting memory. They will be guided through the specifics of the memory, such as the age of occurrence, details about the location etc.

After describing what took place in the memory, the client will then be guided to connect with the feelings associated with the memory.

The therapist and client will then explore what the child needed at the time i.e. what needs were not met. Examples could include, a hug, reassurance etc.

The client is then guided to choose a safe person (can be a doctor, therapist, celebrity, or fictional character) to enter the memory (with the client’s permission) to act in a parental role and give the client the assistance they needed at the time. In schema therapy, this is known as limited reparenting.

In memories associated with severe trauma, the client may opt to have two safe people (eg. psychologist and psychiatrist) with one acting as a carer by giving the client the support they need, and the other acting as a protector by confronting the perpetrator.

The aim here is to assist the client to develop empathy for their child self and identify their needs and how to meet them (as these unmet needs are often replicated in adulthood).

The client and then the therapist will then discuss how the experience impacts their life today, and how they might implement meeting their needs now as an adult.

With practice, the client will get more confident and articulate with identifying and meeting their needs, and ideally, will no longer need the support person to enter the memory but will do so themselves as their adult self. That is, visualise themselves now reassuring and comforting their child self, being the only person who can truly know what that child is feeling.

What does it feel like?

Individuals who have done schema imagery generally describe it as an extremely powerful and emotionally moving experience. It makes it very difficult to intellectualise the memory (very common for individuals that have experienced trauma) and individuals are often surprised at how emotionally touching the experience is.

While it is associated with distress, individuals generally report this distress as accompanied by feelings of validation, lightness, or legitimacy, and it can really create shifts in someone’s core beliefs and the way they see themselves as a child and an adult now in the world.

How long does imagery rescripting take?

This is completely dependent on the intensity of memories and the number of memories. Some individuals may need to process the same memory many times before it can be laid to rest.

For individuals with countless memories, it is important to understand that every single memory does not need to be processed. It is about using imagery to connect with and validate key feelings.

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