Mental imagery in depression: Phenomenology, potential mechanisms, and treatment implications

Emily A. Holmes, Simon E. Blackwell, Stephanie Burnett Heyes, Fritz Renner, Filip Raes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)


Mental imagery is an experience like perception in the absence of a percept. It is a ubiquitous feature of human cognition, yet has been relatively neglected in the etiology, maintenance, and treatment of depression. Imagery abnormalities in depression include an excess of intrusive negative mental imagery; impoverished positive imagery; observer perspective imagery; and overgeneral memory, in which specific imagery is lacking. We consider the contribution of imagery dysfunctions to depressive psychopathology, and implications for cognitive-behavioural interventions. Treatment advances capitalising on the representational format of imagery (as opposed to its content) are reviewed, including imagery rescripting, positive imagery generation, and memory specificity training. Considering mental imagery can contribute to clinical assessment and imagery-focussed psychological therapeutic techniques, and promote investigation of underlying mechanisms for treatment innovation. Research into mental imagery in depression is at an early stage. Investigation of imagery-related mechanisms by bridging clinical psychology and neuroscience is recommended.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnual Review of Clinical Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


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