Harnessing mental imagery and enhancing memory specificity: Developing a brief early intervention for depressive symptoms in adolescence

Victoria Pile, Patrick Smith, Mary Leamy, Abigail Oliver, Simon E. Blackwell, Richard Meiser-Stedman, Barnaby Dunn, Emily Holmes, Jennifer Y. F. Lau

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15 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Treatment innovation for depressive symptoms in adolescence is urgently needed. Adult research suggests interventions targeting underlying cognitive mechanisms, such as dysfunctional mental imagery and overgeneral memory, are promising. Here, we describe and evaluate in a case series a brief imagery-based intervention for depressive symptoms that targets these cognitive mechanisms.

Methods: Nine participants completed the four-session intervention, whose principle components were imagery rescripting and memory specificity training. Questionnaires and experimental tasks (assessing symptomatology and cognitive mechanisms) were administered at three time points: pre-intervention, post-intervention and 3-month follow-up.

Results: The intervention was feasible to deliver and acceptable to participants. There was a large reduction in depression symptom scores from pre to post intervention (d = 1.32; 67% showed reliable improvement, RI) and this was maintained at follow-up (d = 1.46; RI = 75%). There were also reductions in anxiety (post: d = 1.15, RI = 44%; follow-up: d = 1.67, RI = 63%), increases in self-esteem (post: d = − 0.70, RI = 44%; follow-up: d = − 1.20, RI = 50%) and noteworthy changes in memory specificity (post: d = − 1.80, RI = 67%; follow-up: d = − 0.94, RI = 63%).

Conclusions: This is the first study to use imagery rescripting and memory specificity training in adolescence. Initial evidence is provided that the intervention is acceptable and may have clinical utility. Future randomised controlled trials are needed to further assess the intervention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)885–901
Number of pages17
JournalCognitive Therapy and Research
Issue number5
Early online date16 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Adolescence
  • Autobiographical memory
  • Depression
  • Early intervention
  • Mental imagery
  • Psychological therapy

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