The therapeutic functions of mental imagery in psychotherapy: constructing a theoretical model


Thomas, V. 2011. The therapeutic functions of mental imagery in psychotherapy: constructing a theoretical model. Thesis Middlesex University / Metanoia Institute Psychology
TitleThe therapeutic functions of mental imagery in psychotherapy: constructing a theoretical model
AuthorsThomas, V.

There is widespread implicit agreement within the field of psychotherapy about the therapeutic potential of mental imagery. A review of the literature indicates, however, a paucity of general theory. The literature on mental imagery is mainly concerned with its application i.e. procedures and techniques. Theorising, where it occurs, is usually informed by the specific psychological model espoused by the particular psychotherapeutic modality. In order to advance the utilisation of mental imagery as a therapeutic intervention, more attention needs to be paid to developing broader transtheoretical frameworks.
In order to address this theory gap, research is required to identify common factors operating across all therapeutic schools with regard to the application of mental imagery. To this end a study was undertaken to inquire into potential category bases for developing generic typologies in mental imagery. A scoping exercise was undertaken of case studies of mental imagery in clinical practice published in academic journals in order to map out the field. A sample of suitable case vignettes drawn from a wide range of therapeutic approaches was selected. The imagery-related clinical material was abstracted and used as the data for a grounded theory style analysis. This analytic process disclosed one overarching category i.e. the therapeutic function of mental imagery and two core categories: 1. conveying information from the subconscious/wider mind-body system to the conscious mind, and 2. delivering directions from the conscious mind to the subconscious/wider mind-body system. These two categories were further differentiated into the following six specific functions: diagnostic; monitoring; processing; reparative; process management; and framing. It is proposed that this emerging functional typology of mental imagery has the potential to be the base of a coherent unifying transtheoretical model.
These findings are discussed and critiqued in the light of the original unabridged data, and the researcher’s own clinical practice with mental imagery. The relevance and implications of these findings are considered with regard to the wider field of psychotherapeutic practice. Recommendations are made regarding the further testing out and refinement of this potential model of the therapeutic functionality of mental imagery.
This study is accompanied (and its subject matter further illuminated) by an account of the researcher’s own heuristic inquiry into the subjective and tacit dimensions of her research journey disclosed through symbolising this process as a mental image and monitoring its changes over time.

Department namePsychology
Institution nameMiddlesex University / Metanoia Institute
Publication dates
Print23 Apr 2013
Publication process dates
Deposited23 Apr 2013
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
Additional information

Doctorate in Psychotherapy by Professional Studies.

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