Emily Holmes' research group

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Emotional Mental Imagery Lab (EMIL) for psychological treatment development

The work in Emily Holmes' research group is underpinned by a core interest in mental health science, and the translation of basic findings to create innovations to improve psychological treatments. The research combines perspectives from clinical and experimental psychology. It takes an interdisciplinary approach including psychology, psychiatry, cognitive science, neuroscience and so forth.

Mental imagery is implicated across psychological disorders from intrusive memories of past trauma, to flashforwards to the future in bipolar disorder. Mental imagery involves ‘seeing in the mind’s eye’, ‘hearing in the mind’s ear’ et cetera and has a more powerful impact on emotion than its verbal counterpart (thinking in words). It therefore presents exciting opportunities for transdiagnostic mental health treatment innovation. Mental imagery is also fascinating in its own right in terms of better understanding one of the various shapes human thinking can take.

One current focus in Emily Holmes’ research group is to use current knowledge about mental imagery to develop innovative treatments for psychological trauma among refugees. The number of refugees is the highest ever worldwide. Among refugees and asylum seekers there is a high prevalence of psychiatric disorders that involves intrusive memories, for example PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). The need for new effective treatments that can reach a large population has never been greater.

Emily Holmes is also a Visiting Professor in Clinical Psychology at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford and holds Honorary Appointment at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences, Cambridge, UK.

Research themes

  • To use psychological science to investigate the mechanisms underlying psychological disorders, with a particular focus on mental imagery.
  • To use findings from this basic research to develop more focussed and effective psychological interventions.
  • To develop innovative methods to target key cognitive processes when these become problematic in psychological disorders whether via face-to-face therapy, computers, or simple cognitive tasks.
  • To address topical areas of need such preventative approaches soon after trauma occurs, or for solutions that are scalable to reach the large number of refugees who have experienced trauma. 

Public communication of science

Selected publications

Preventing intrusive memories after trauma via a brief intervention involving Tetris computer game play in the emergency department: a proof-of-concept randomized controlled trial.
Iyadurai L, Blackwell S, Meiser-Stedman R, Watson P, Bonsall M, Geddes J, Nobre A, Holmes, E
Molecular Psychiatry; doi: 10.1038/mp.2017.23

Computer Game Play Reduces Intrusive Memories of Experimental Trauma via Reconsolidation-Update Mechanisms.
James E, Bonsall M, Hoppitt L, Tunbridge E, Geddes J, Milton A, et al
Psychol Sci 2015 Aug;26(8):1201-15

The trauma film paradigm as an experimental psychopathology model of psychological trauma: intrusive memories and beyond.
James E, Lau-Zhu A, Clark I, Visser R, Hagenaars M, Holmes E
Clin Psychol Rev 2016 07;47():106-42

Applications of time-series analysis to mood fluctuations in bipolar disorder to promote treatment innovation: a case series.
Holmes E, Bonsall M, Hales S, Mitchell H, Renner F, Blackwell S, et al
Transl Psychiatry 2016 Jan;6():e720

Mental Imagery in Depression: Phenomenology, Potential Mechanisms, and Treatment Implications.
Holmes E, Blackwell S, Burnett Heyes S, Renner F, Raes F
Annu Rev Clin Psychol 2016 ;12():249-80

Mental Imagery: Functional Mechanisms and Clinical Applications.
Pearson J, Naselaris T, Holmes E, Kosslyn S
Trends Cogn. Sci. (Regul. Ed.) 2015 Oct;19(10):590-602

A call for mental-health science. Clinicians and neuroscientists must work together to understand and improve psychological treatments.
Holmes E, Craske M, Graybiel A

"I can’t concentrate": A feasibility study with young refugees in Sweden on developing science-driven interventions for intrusive memories related to trauma.
Holmes E, Ghaderi A, Eriksson E, Lauri K, Kukacka O, Mamish M, James E, Visser R
Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy 2017; 45(2); 97-109; doi: 10.1017/S135246581600062X

See Emily Holmes' personal page for a full list of publications by her.