Research backs visual therapy to reduce harmful sexual fantasies | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Research backs visual therapy to reduce harmful sexual fantasies

A psychology therapy that uses visual imagery to desensitise people from traumatic memories can also reduce the impacts of harmful sexual fantasies, according to UniSC PhD research.

Clinical psychologist Dr Andrew Allen said the results of his University of the Sunshine Coast PhD research could potentially inform both forensic criminology and therapeutic psychology.

“Fantasies represent a common aspect of human sexuality that can support sexual wellbeing but also contribute to psychopathology,” said Dr Allen, pictured below.

“These results could be applied in forensic settings to reduce the risk of sexual violence stemming from perpetrators’ harmful fantasies, as well as in clinical settings to help people cope with distressing sexual memories.”

His most recent study, published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, found that EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) could reduce the vividness, physical sensations, pleasure and sexual arousal associated with sexual fantasies.

The process involved using a computer to facilitate eye movements while participants practiced mental imagery.

PhD co-supervisor Dr Nadine McKillop, of UniSC’s Sexual Violence Research and Prevention Unit, said the findings were particularly important following October's Sexual Violence Awareness Month in Queensland.

Dr Allen said his studies were based on the premise that sexual dysfunction could stem from problematic memories (like PTSD) and that sexual fantasies could be derived from previous sexual experiences.

“This latest study supported the notion that eye movement therapy could impair the characteristics of the sexual fantasies and impact behavioural intention,” he said.

Link to previous UniSC feature.

“This is novel research producing very interesting results,” said UniSC co-supervisor Senior Lecturer in Psychology Dr Prudence Millear.

The paper was also co-authored by Professor Mary Katsikitis of Flinders University.

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