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Therapy with mental images is prevalent in the field of chronic pain, and this has been the case for centuries. Yet few of the recent advances in the cognitive behavioural understanding of spontaneous (i.e. intrusive) mental imagery have been translated to this field. Such advances include imagery as a component of a psychopathological process, as an emotional amplifier and as a cognitive therapeutic target in its own right. Hence very little is known about the contents, prevalence and emotional impact of spontaneous mental imagery in the context of chronic pain. This article discusses the evidence in favour of spontaneous imagery being a potentially important part of patients' pain experience, and makes a case, based on neurophysiological findings, for imagery having an impact on pain perception. Furthermore, it presents how mental imagery has been used in the treatment of chronic pain. A case report illustrates further how spontaneous negative imagery linked to pain can be distressing, and how this might be addressed in therapy. Additionally, the case report demonstrates the spontaneous use of coping imagery, and raises a discussion of how this might be enhanced.

Original publication




Journal article


J Exp Psychopathol

Publication Date





258 - 273


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Mental imagery, chronic pain, coping imagery, guided imagery, suggestions