Targeting intrusive imagery using a competing task technique: a case study.
Iyadurai L., Hales SA., Blackwell SE., Young K., Holmes EA.
BACKGROUND: Even in cases with complexity, simple techniques can be useful to target a specific symptom. Intrusive mental images are highly disruptive, drive emotion, and contribute to maintaining psychopathology. Cognitive science suggests that we might target intrusive images using competing tasks. AIMS: We describe an imagery competing task technique within cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with a patient with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. The intervention - including Tetris computer game-play - was used (1) to target a specific image within one therapy session, and (2) to manage multiple images in daily life. METHOD: A single case (AB) design was used. (1) To target a specific image, the patient brought the image to mind and, after mental rotation instructions and game-play practice, played Tetris for 10 minutes. Outcomes, pre- and post-technique, were: vividness/distress ratings when the image was brought to mind; reported intrusion frequency over a week. (2) To manage multiple images, the patient used the intervention after an intrusive image occurred. Outcomes were weekly measures of: (a) imagery characteristics; (b) symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression and mania. RESULTS: (1) For the target image, there were reductions in vividness (80% to 40%), distress (70% to 0%), and intrusion frequency (daily to twice/week). (2) For multiple images, there were reductions from baseline to follow-up in (a) imagery vividness (38%), realness (66%) and compellingness (23%), and (b) PTSD symptoms (Impact of Events Scale-Revised score 26.33 to 4.83). CONCLUSION: This low-intensity intervention aiming to directly target intrusive mental imagery may offer an additional, complementary tool in CBT.