The technique of emotional imagination aims to reduce anxiety that cause certain situations or stimuli. It is a behavioral technique, belonging to systematic desensitization, which aims to associate an anxious stimulus with a pleasant response.
Imagine a pleasant scene, which causes this same feeling, this response being incompatible with a state of anxiety. In this article, we will learn what it is, who it is for and how it is applied.
Emotional imagination technique: what does it consist of?
The technique of emotional imagination is a behaviorist technique, typical of classical conditioning. In classical conditioning, stimuli elicit automatic responses, and the idea is to associate these stimuli with a series of patient responses.
More precisely, the technique of emotional imagination is included in the techniques of systematic desensitization (it is a specific type of it).
It can be used on its own or as part of another larger therapy. This is the case of Albert Ellis’ TREC (Rational Emotional Behavioral Therapy), which includes this technique as part of his therapy.
A type of systematic awareness
On the other hand, systematic desensitization (DS) is a procedure in which the patient faces the phobic or anxious stimulus with a response incompatible with anxiety, usually relaxation (although it can also be a pleasant state or an image. pleasant, as in the technique of emotional imagination).
How it works?
What is done with the technique of emotional imagination is to associate an anxious stimulus that causes us anxiety and discomfort, with another stimulus of a pleasant nature, more precisely, an imagined pleasant picture or scene. This image or scene generates a state of calm in the subject which is incompatible with anxiety.
So by combining these two stimuli (and if done effectively), what happens is that when the anxiety-inducing stimulus arises, the person is able to automatically imagine a pleasurable scene that reduces or completely eliminates the condition. initial anxiety.
Who is he talking to?
Thus, the technique of emotional imagination can be applied in children, adolescents and adults. In fact, in school contexts, it is easy to apply due to its simplicity of application.
For example, a child who feels anxious about going to the dentist may imagine their favorite cartoon character going to the dentist, or even during the operation, little by little to relieve anxiety symptoms (since they are incompatible with a pleasant condition).
However, while this may seem like a simple technique, for it to work, it must be practiced consistently and in different contexts.
The application of the technique of emotional imagination is done as follows, through these steps:
1. Identify anxious stimuli
The first step is to identify the stimuli or situations that evoke anxiety, fear or fear.
2. Choose the beautiful picture
Thereafter, they will have to be chosen images or scenes (or just one) that generate a pleasant state of tranquility in the patient. In the case of children, for example, it may be their favorite fictional character.
The third step of the emotional imagination technique involves the patient acting and imagining with their eyes closed and with all possible details, the beautiful image or scene previously chosen. In the case of children, and if a fictional or cartoon character has been chosen, it is a good idea for the child to establish some kind of “relationship” with him.
Imagination varies from person to person (some can be very good and some not), but you can always learn, practice, and improve. Performing training exercises to develop it can be very helpful.
4. Introduce the phobic stimulus
In the last step, the stimuli that generate fear or anxiety will be gradually introduced, so that little by little the patient associates them with the pleasant image. The ultimate goal is to eliminate anxiety and that the person can automatically imagine the pleasant situation when he or she faces it or that the phobic situation appears.
5. Elimination of anxiety
Finally, as the practice, on the one hand, of imagining the pleasant situation and, on the other hand, of associating the phobic stimulus with the pleasant increases, it will be possible to strengthen this association and therefore to eliminate the anguish generated by the situation.
The role of emotions
But why is the technique useful? From psychology, we know that emotions are responses that arise as a result of certain events, whether external (from the environment) or internal (from the “world” inside the person).
That is, they can appear because of things that happen on the outside (for example, the death of a loved one), or because of things that are happening “on the inside” (for example, thinking to the bad relationship we had with this deceased person). In other words, in the second case, the thoughts, reflections, ideas that cross our mind, etc. are included.
In this way, the technique of emotional imagination is what it intends to be. provide us with the tools to deal with negative thoughts that often cause the negative emotions or sensations we feel, such as anxiety or fear.
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- Vallejo, MA (2012). Handbook of Behavioral Therapy. Tom I and II. Madrid: Dykinson.