Emily Holmes, PhD
Director of EMIL
Laura Singh, PhD
Sara Ahmed Pihlgren
Sara Ahmed Pihlgren gave us an exclusive look at the behind-the-scenes of the Emotional Mental Imagery Lab from a Research Assistant's perspective!
CHECK OUT THE INTERVIEW BELOW
Where on the translational spectrum would you place the work you’re doing? How would you describe your research to someone who works in a different field?
Sara: "On a translation spectrum I would say that the EMIL-lab is in the process of
understanding mechanisms of interventions but also evaluating novel neuroscience-
informed interventions. Specifically, we are exploring mechanisms of a brief
intervention in laboratory studies with non-clinical participants. We are now also in the
early stages of evaluating this intervention that has been developed in the laboratory in
different clinical settings for the first time. So far it has shown promising results in
clinical pilot/case series work.
To describe the research, I would say that we are looking at reducing the frequency of
intrusive memories, also often referred to as flashbacks, among people who have
experienced a traumatic event. Intrusive memories are mental images that pop-up
spontaneously and unwanted in a person’s mind after experiencing a traumatic event.
Intrusive memories are one of the main symptoms of diagnoses such as PTSD. Reducing
the number of intrusive memories might also reduce the distress or discomfort caused
by them. By doing this we hope to help patients in need of an intervention to reduce
intrusive memories or prevent them from building up in the first place. Our work
involves some lab studies and some clinical studies – in everything we do there is a huge
focus on training (i.e., for students and researchers) and being curious about the little
details. It’s often those details that count. In fact, we discuss little details of the research
within the whole team every single day – it’s very ‘hands on’."
What is a lab project you’re currently excited about?
Sara: "Currently, I am the most excited about the results for the EKUT-P project! The
project is about healthcare staff in Sweden and their experiences with traumatic events,
in specific intrusive memories, in the line of their work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We know from Greenberg et al. (2021) that PTSD symptoms are all too prevalent - and we
want to see if our intervention can help to reduce the number of intrusive memories in
these nurses and doctors. They will have to return to the workplace where they
experienced their traumatic events, and new traumatic events can also occur as the
pandemic is still ongoing. It is essential to help these nurses and doctors, who have
helped so many others during the pandemic by caring for COVID patients. Supporting
their mental health and giving them a tool to cope with the struggles they may face
every day at their workplace feels very important. This really adds significance to the
work we are doing at the lab, and I am looking forward to seeing the outcomes of the
What types of tasks do you do in the lab on a typical day?
Sara: "My role as a research assistant covers more of the administrational support with
organizing references and helping with recruitment of participants for the EKUT-P
study. Previously, when I was writing my thesis (supervised in our team by Dr Laura
Singh and Prof Emily Holmes), I collected and compared numerous studies, laboratory
and clinical, from the EMIL-lab to compare results and to explore the ‘intrusion diary’ as
a measure in the trauma field. This included a lot of time reviewing the previous studies
as well as doing statistical analyses."
What past experiences prepared you for working in your lab?
Sara: "My experiences from my undergraduate program in behavioral science definitely helped to prepare me for the work in the lab. During my program we frequently did “mini-experiments” to introduce us as students to the research field, this really helped to
bridge the gap between student and researcher.
What is a fun fact or a favorite memory from your time in your lab?
Sara: "My favorite memories are from my time as an undergraduate when we in the EMIL team had the morning “fika” meetings (a still ongoing routine to keep in regular contact ‘virtually’ during the pandemic). “Fika” is a Swedish word and is the equivalent to a “coffee break”. During these meeting the team is encouraged to take walks outside and
the time is used to discuss a range of different topics, ranging from work-related stuff to
what kinds of flowers we saw outside. For me this was a really nice way to start the day
and it helped to motivate oneself by hearing what the rest of the team was up to."