Emily Holmes, Professor at the Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, Sweden
Mental Imagery and Mental Health Science – Pre, peri and post covid-19
Abstract Mental imagery allows us to time travel. So doing can have a powerful impact on our emotions, motivation and behaviour. Intrusive image-based memories can “flash backwards” to past trauma. Mental imagery can "flash forwards" to the future, such as in suicidal thinking or goals in hypomania. Although images can seem fleeting and elusive, our research methods to investigate imagery are advancing. Better understanding mental imagery offers insights to improve interventions.
Mental health science is an umbrella term to cover the many different disciplines, including psychology, psychiatry, clinical medicine, social sciences, and neuroscience, that will need to work together and with people with lived experience of mental health problems to improve interventions. We will discuss mental health science priorities for the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond1 and for psychological treatment innovation specifically2.
Our team has been interested in the interplay between mental imagery and science-driven treatment innovation. We explore intrusive, emotional mental imagery after psychological trauma to illustrate one example of a mental health science approach3. This generated a novel intervention approach - the idea of working with intrusive images of trauma using concurrent tasks, while moving ideas between the lab and the clinic. This experimental approach is at an early stage not an evidenced-based intervention, and is used here to illustrate an interplay between science and practice. We also consider applications to remotely delivered intervention innovation under pandemic conditions4.
More broadly, there is great potential for adaptions and innovations in psychological treatments now. Experimental therapeutics could help fuel disruptive innovations that are useful in new ways to more diverse groups, and globally, long post-pandemic.
Holmes, E. A., O'Connor, R. C., Perry, V. H., Tracey, I., Wessely, S., Arseneault, L., Ballard, C., Christensen, H., Cohen Silver, R., Everall, I., Ford, T., John, A., Kabir, T., King, K., Madan, I., Michie, S., Przybylski, A. K., Shafran, R., Sweeney, A., Worthman, C. M., Yardley, L., Cowan, K., Cope, C., Hotopf M. & Bullmore, E. (2020). Multidisciplinary research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic: a call for action for mental health science. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(6), 547–560. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30168-1
Holmes, E. A., Ghaderi, A., Harmer, C., Ramchandani, P. G., Cuijpers, P., Morrison, A. P., Roiser, J. P., Bockting, C. L. H., O’Connor, R. C., Shafran, R., Moulds, M.L., & Craske, M. G. (2018). The Lancet Psychiatry Commission on Psychological Treatments Research in Tomorrow's Science. Lancet Psychiatry, 5(3), 237-86. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(17)30513-8
Singh, L., Espinosa, L., Ji, J., Moulds, M. L., & Holmes, E. A. (2020). Developing thinking around mental health science: The example of intrusive, emotional mental imagery after psychological trauma. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 25(5), 348–363. https://doi.org/10.1080/13546805.2020.1804845
Singh, L., Kanstrup, M., Depa, K., Falk, A. C., Lindström, V., Dahl, O., Göransson, K. E., Rudman, A., & Holmes, E. A. (2021). Digitalizing a Brief Intervention to Reduce Intrusive Memories of Psychological Trauma for Health Care Staff Working During COVID-19: Exploratory Pilot Study with Nurses. JMIR Formative Research, 5(5), e27473. https://doi.org/10.2196/27473
Short biography Emily Holmes is professor in psychology at the Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, where she leads a research group working at the Emotional Mental Imagery Lab (EMIL). In addition to being a Professor at the Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, Holmes is affiliated to the Karolinska Institute’s, Department of Clinical Neuroscience. She is also visiting Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, UK.
Holmes' field within psychology is experimental psychopathology in the areas of memory and emotion. Under the umbrella of "mental health science", her interdisciplinary research places cognitive science alongside clinical psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience for psychological treatment innovation. Her work in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and bipolar disorder is linked by an interest in mental imagery and emotion. Holmes also works with the prevention of mental illness, including by examining whether early intervention in emergency care can prevent the development of intrusive unpleasant image memories in people who have experienced traumatic events.