From a cognitive science perspective mental imagery involves an experience like perception in the absence of a percept: seeing in our mind’s eye, hearing with our mind’s ear and so forth. Imagery has extremely interesting properties - it recruits similar brain areas to actual perception, and enhances memory and learning. Prof. Holmes's experimental work has shown that compared to verbal processing mental imagery has a more powerful impact on emotion.
From a clinical practice perspective, intrusive, affect-laden images cause distress across psychological disorders. Imagery-based intrusive memories and “flashbacks” to a past trauma are the hallmark of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Intrusive mental imagery of the future can also occur, such as “flashforwards” to suicidal acts or manic pursuits in bipolar disorder. We need to know how to work with dysfunctional imagery, and promote adaptive imagery using imagery-focused cognitive psychotherapy techniques.
Prof. Holmes discusses the science and practice of imagery based cognitive therapy, and new techniques developed in reference to her team’s work in trauma, depression, and bipolar disorder.
Prof. Emily Holmes is Programme Leader at the MRC (Medical Research Council) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK. She is Guest Professor in Clinical Psychology at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and an Honorary Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Oxford. She is a cognitive scientist and clinical psychologist. She is on the Board of Trustees of the research charity “MQ; transforming mental health” and Chair of their Fellows Committee.