Imagery techniques are increasingly used in both cognitive and schema therapy, as they can be much more powerful and transformative than just talking about a problem. The most common imagery technique in schema therapy is called 'rescripting', which means accessing an upsetting memory (usually from childhood, but it can also be a more recent memory) and changing the narrative in some way, to reduce the emotional charge associated with that memory.
For example, if your mother was extremely critical of you as a child, this may have had a long-term impact on your confidence and self-esteem. As an adult, you might find criticism of any kind hard to accept; and have particular problems with dominant or critical people such as partners, friends or colleagues. This might also have led to the formation of a Defectiveness or Subjugation schema, which would be triggered whenever anyone was critical of or angry towards you.
Imagery in schema therapy
If we were working on this in schema therapy, I would ask you to close your eyes and allow an image to come of a time when you felt criticised or attacked as a child. When you accessed a memory – say of your mother telling you off harshly for making a mistake in your homework – I would get you to relive the experience as much as possible, to make it vivid and real. We would then change the image in some way – like adding a new ending to a movie – that would fundamentally alter the memory you still carry of that event.
This can be transformative, removing most or all of the negative emotions you feel when you remember that incident. Over time, this helps heal your schemas – so you don't find criticism so hurtful, or people so hard to deal with – and increases your sense of resilience, confidence and self-worth.
The focus on 'experiential' techniques like this is one of the things that makes schema therapy such an effective, powerful approach – allowing us to heal deep-rooted, hard-to-treat problems that other therapies might have failed to tackle.
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