PTSD: German Soldiers & Guilt, Shame & Compassionate Imagery in War

Research Paper Title

Guilt, Shame and Compassionate Imagery in War: Traumatized German Soldiers with PTSD, a Pilot Study.


The consideration of specific trauma-associated emotions poses a challenge for the differential treatment planning in trauma therapy. Soldiers experiencing deployment-related posttraumatic stress disorder often struggle with emotions of guilt and shame as a central component of their PTSD.

The purpose of this study was to examine the extent to which soldiers’ PTSD symptoms and their trauma-related guilt and shame may be affected as a function of their ability to develop compassionate imagery between their CURRENT SELF (today) and their TRAUMATIZED SELF (back then).


The sample comprised 24 male German soldiers diagnosed with PTSD who were examined on the Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale (PDS) and two additional measures:

  1. The Emotional Distress Inventory (EIBE) and the Quality of Interaction between the CURRENT SELF; and
  2. The TRAUMATISED SELF (QUI-HD: Qualität der Interaktion zwischen HEUTIGEN ICH und DAMALIGEN ICH), at pre- and post-treatment and again at follow-up.

The treatment used was imagery rescripting and reprocessing therapy (IRRT).


Eighteen of the 24 soldiers showed significant improvement in their PTSD symptoms at post-treatment and at follow-up (on their reliable change index). A significant change in trauma-associated guilt and shame emerged when compassionate imagery was developed towards one’s TRAUMATISED SELF. The degree and intensity of the guilt and shame felt at the beginning of treatment and the degree of compassionate imagery developed toward the TRAUMATISED SELF were predictors for change on the PDS scores.


For soldiers suffering from specific war-related trauma involving PTSD, the use of self-nurturing, compassionate imagery that fosters reconciling with the traumatised part of the self can effectively diminish trauma-related symptoms, especially when guilt and shame are central emotions.


Alliger-Horn, C., Zimmermann, P.L. & Schmucker, M. (2016) Guilt, Shame and Compassionate Imagery in War: Traumatized German Soldiers with PTSD, a Pilot Study. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 5(10). pii: E90.


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