THESIS ABSTRACT 2005
Reducing the Impact of Flashbacks in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:
Mastering Trigger Imagery Using Video Editing Software
This thesis explores the potential for diminishing the number and intensity of flashbacks in a person suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through self-exposure to trigger imagery using video editing software. A traumatic experience can cause associated images and sounds, as well as smells, textures, and bodily sensations, to be imprinted with a sense of imminent danger. These sensory memories become coded in the brain to the original traumatic event(s). Even years later, the presence of a trigger can cause a flashback. A flashback is the result of the human organism instinctively reacting to the present stimuli with as much psychological distress and physiological response as when the actual trauma was taking place.
If a trauma survivor were able to manage trigger images and sound, might she or he eventually master the triggers? If new associations and contexts were created with trigger imagery could flashbacks be reduced?
Like bits and pieces of memory, video clips, still images, and sound containing trigger and non-trigger imagery were gathered with the help of the client. The materials were converted into digital files, which were then organized into a library of personally relevant media. The library gathering process allowed for weeks of talking about memories stimulated by the material; sensitizing the client to the concept of handling known trigger imagery; and sharing with the art therapist the details of her flashback experiences and memories from her life as they were stimulated.
Basic video editing was introduced over time. Technology was demystified in order to provide the client with visual choices for images. Image layering, clip speed manipulation, and color enhancement of images were demonstrated. The client decided the degree of opacity to render trigger imagery when it was linked with non-trigger imagery. Playing clips from the software timeline allowed her to see the reference to the trigger imagery without actually seeing the image. She had control of stopping and starting the play of video clips in the timeline. Reliance on her internal gauges was balanced with careful observation to provide a safe method of engagement without re-traumatization.
The hope was that new meaning could be developed with trigger imagery through constructing a new context, and that the existing fear memory structures imprinted with trigger imagery could be loosened.
Barbara (Basia) Mosinski is a faculty member at SAIC in the Film/Video/New Media Department and received her MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. While in the MAAT program, she did internships at The Institute for Therapy Through the Arts, The Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture, and International FACES.
Thesis Advisor: Catherine Moon, Assistant Professor, Art Therapy
Thesis Reader: Mary Fabri