Functional Imagery Training

A new behavioural change intervention developed by psychologists from the University of Plymouth is to be tested in a randomised controlled trial in Australia. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NMHRC) has awarded $895,000 to Professors Jackie AndradeJon May, David Kavanagh and colleagues in Queensland University of Technology to compare functional imagery training (FIT) against existing treatments for alcohol use disorder, in a four year project.

Alcohol misuse is a priority health issue, because of its high frequency, severe impact and relapse risk. Current treatments have modest outcomes, and access to effective treatment is limited, especially in rural and remote areas. There is substantial room for improvement.

While mental imagery has long been used in psychological treatments, FIT is the first to fully harness its power, by training people to sustain motivation for functional behaviour and resist temptation using imagery.

FIT offers support for self-management using the internet and phone contact, spread over five months, assisted by a smartphone app that gives notifications, audios, photos and rewards to support imagery practice.

FIT helps people to sustain behaviour change, by making imagery routine. Participants take and view photos to cue imagery about effective strategies, successes, emerging benefits from reduced drinking, and plans for expected challenges. A smartphone app gives audios to guide imagery and mindfulness, cues practice by notifications and calendar reminders, and rewards recorded practice. In brief phone calls over five months, therapists acknowledge progress and refresh imagery to ensure its current relevance. Additional support for maintenance is given by progressive adoption of additional functional goals that are inconsistent with alcohol misuse (e.g. physical fitness).

You can find out more about the Plymouth group's work at their blog.