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The National Council of Psychotherapists

Est. 1971


Self-help - The rewind technique

Michael O’Sullivan FNCP

The rewind technique, popularised by Dr. David Muss in his book ‘The Trauma Trap’, is a self-help technique intended to be taught and demonstrated to clients as a practical and portable, i.e. away from the consulting room, technique for clients to help them cope with difficult and distressing recollections.

The aim of the rewind technique it to return a feeling of control to a trauma victim by helping them to regain control over when they choose to recall an event. With practice, flashbacks can become a thing of the past, and victims are allowed to remember the past at their own pace and in a more controlled and healthy manner.


If it is your normal practice ask the client to complete an impact of events scale questionnaire, please do so at the beginning of the session. Another IES will need to be completed after a month to check for progress.

Teach the client to relax as deeply as is possible for them at present, and encourage them to continue to practice relaxation techniques on a regular basis.

Relaxation techniques which emphasise deep diaphragmatic breathing coupled with alternately tensing and relaxing each muscle group in turn give consistently good results. Relaxation training should take as long as is needed.

Explain the technique briefly and then move into carrying it through immediately. Your explanation to the client should be kept brief, along the lines of ‘you are going to show them a simple way that they can use to control the images that they are experiencing and you are also going to show them a simple way of controlling them’:

The rewind

Most of us have had the experience of being in complete and total control over ordinary everyday items such as the image displayed on our television screens by means of a video recorder.

At the touch of a button, without leaving our chair, we decide whether or not a certain image is going to be allowed to play. We further decide when it is going to be played, for how long, how bright it will be, you decide how fast to play it, you can slow it down, turn the sound up or down, or even switch it off completely … you have total control.

Now using the power of your imagination see yourself sitting in a room watching a video film on a television screen. You have control over the remote control; it is in your hand. You are watching a film of the event that you were involved in. In a moment, when I say begin, press the start button on the remote control and the film will begin at a point just before the incident began.

The film will play through in great detail, showing every sight, playing every sound as you watch yourself on the screen until the incident finishes and memory fades. When you reach this point simply nod your head and say GONE. So ready now - BEGIN

Wait until the client nods his head and says GONE.

Now in a moment you will hear me say REWIND and when you hear this a wonderful thing will happen. The film on the video will begin to rewind and play backwards. You will see yourself in the film, and you will see everything that happened, backwards. You will see hear and experience everything differently, backwards. When you rewind to a point before the incident, when you felt good about yourself then simply nod your head again … and relax completely.

So ready now … REWIND

The rewind technique is a masterful desensitization technique and its power lies in its simplicity and ease of application. However, therapist are well advised to remember that like every other technique it is not a stand alone process and in cases where it does not work be prepared to do something else.

The rewind has come in for some criticism over the years and several professional colleagues have challenged me on the wisdom of teaching clients to practice what is in effect self-therapy.  Self-therapy is something that many textbooks directly claim or indirectly imply cannot or should not be done.

It is interesting to note that the rewind, or a variation of it, plays a crucial role in the new Fast Phobia Cure process. The fast Phobia Cure was developed as a result of and is based on the most up to date research on how human beings develop trauma, and how to help them to overcome it.


·       The Trauma Trap, Dr. Muss David

·       One session trauma resolution, leaflet by Michael O’Sullivan (1998)

·       NCP Seminar 11 Jan 2002 – David Bennett, Traumatic Stress Centre, Wales


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