Cautela, J. R., & Kearney, A. J. (1986). The covert conditioning handbook. New York, NY: Springer (pp. 82-84).

Imagery is most effective when all senses involved in the imagery are "experienced." This contrasts to the popular sporting notion of "visualization" which in its crudest form consists of the imager "viewing" a video or movie of him/herself from an external perspective. To "experience" imagery, it has to involve all senses and associations and therefore, must be perceived from an internal perspective. To develop sensitivity to elements in an experience, Cautela and Kearney propose the following.

  1. When describing scenes the client should use the greatest detail possible. This can be facilitated by using very familiar scenes in the initial stages of a procedure.
  2. Have the client look at an object (e.g., a plant, a chair) and then close his/her eyes and describe as many features of the object as possible. This should be repeated until all qualities and characteristics of the object are described.
  3. Repeat step #2 using a simple picture.
  4. Repeat step #3 using a complex picture.
  5. Ask the client to close his/her eyes and listen to some music or sounds. Then turn the stimulus off but have the client continue to "hear" it.
  6. Repeat step #5 until the melody of the music is repeated accurately.
  7. Smell odors and then imagine them.
  8. Taste items and then imagine the tastes.
  9. Have the client use movies or video tapes using stop-action and practice recalling the imagery of the last scene.
  10. Have the client go to a real setting and notice/recall sights, sounds, and feelings that were experienced.
  11. Use tactile stimulations of events and recall the sensations.
  12. Attend to movements and then recall kinesthetic sensations.
  13. Start a treatment with one sense modality. Then gradually add the others but only after clear controlled imagery is achieved with each addition.
  14. Attend to enjoyable experiences which occur and savor them for later retrieval as covert positive reinforcers.
  15. Audio-videotapes can be used away from the therapy setting to produce imagery as "homework."

The main difficulty with imagery is to attain image control. If this cannot be done then it likely will be unsuccessful. Image control is more important than vividness.

Another difficulty is switching between scenes. Switching between the target behavior and consequent scenes (CPR) often produces undesirable mixes of images. For example, if one was to imagine enjoying skiing and then suddenly falling the wrong emotions and imagery would be elicited. Normally, the wrong endings for scenes can be eliminated by fading the stimulus or some direct intervention technique.

If there are problems with image control the following could be done:

Implication. Imagery must include all the sensations that will be experienced in the target behavior or performance. This is contrary to the impression that imagery only involves visual sensations.

Return to Table of Contents for this issue.