What is Guided Imagery?
Guided imagery is the deliberate creation of sensory images (a thought that you can mentally see, hear, taste, smell, touch, and feel) in your mind which can improve your physical, mental and emotional health. For example, to facilitate relaxation, you might be asked to allow an image of a safe and relaxing place to form in your mind, and then as your guide, I would invite you to explore and deepen this image by asking what you see, hear, smell, and feel as you imagine this place.
Described by some as a focused daydream, guided imagery uses words and images to take you on a purposeful journey to help you reach your personal goals. The term "guided imagery" refers to a variety of techniques, including visualization and positive mental rehearsal. Guided imagery can be used actively, when a specific image is used to help alleviate symptoms or problems, or receptively, when an image is "allowed" to come to mind to help gain greater understanding of or insight into an issue in your life.
How Does Guided Imagery Work?
Guided imagery causes profound physical changes in the body. This happens because the body tends to respond to vivid sensory images in the same way it responds in real life to the same experience. For example, if you vividly imagine smelling and tasting your favorite meal, you may soon begin to salivate. It appears that images activate the nervous system, which sends chemical messengers through the bloodstream to specific cells, triggering healing activity. This makes guided imagery invaluable in physical healing, as it has been shown to affect many systems of the body. For example, imagery has been shown to increase the number of circulating white blood cells in cancer patients, thus enhancing the immune system.
Because imagery also helps you to get in touch with symbolic thinking, it can be useful in tapping into your inner wisdom and insight, as well as enhancing creativity. This makes it very useful in helping you gain insight into life issues, problems, and symptoms, and in developing new and creative solutions.
Guided imagery is usually used in the deeply relaxed or "altered" state. This allows messages to travel more easily between our minds and our bodies. Working in the altered state rapidly accelerates any learning or healing that takes place during the imagery experience.
The Role of the Imagery Guide
As your imagery guide, my role is to help you get connected with and explore your own imagery. As a non-directive guide, I will not supply you with stock images. Instead, I work with you to allow the formation of your own, most relevant, images. I work to facilitate your imagery experience and help you learn to use imagery effectively on your own, thus empowering you. While imagery can be very beneficial when practiced on your own, working with an experienced guide can help to deepen and focus the process, while keeping the experience safe and productive.
Benefits of Guided Imagery
There are very few physical, emotional or behavioral symptoms that are not affected to some degree by the mind. Guided imagery taps into your innate inner resources to help you find new and creative solutions to your own problems. Working with an experienced guide enables you to begin your own process of healing, personal growth and enrichment. Because guided imagery techniques carry few, if any, negative side effects when used properly, they can be an ideal adjunct to many other types of therapy and treatment.
Guided imagery has been shown to be very effective with many physical and emotional issues, but seems to be particularly effective when used to address conditions that are caused or aggravated by stress, such as: blood pressure, headaches, pain, gastrointestinal disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression. Guided imagery can also be very useful in enhancing creativity, working through an internal conflict, searching for meaning and purpose, and relaxation.
Imagery can also be useful in rehearsing for an upcoming event, such as public speaking, asserting yourself in a difficult situation, or performing athletically. You can imagine in detail exactly how you want to perform and feel at the actual event, thus programming yourself for success. Imagery can also be used to help change negative habits and to install positive new behaviors (for example, to stop overeating and to incorporate a healthy diet and exercise plan).
Using imagery, I can teach you an easy way to connect with your inner wisdom, allowing you to go inside yourself to get answers. We can also use imagery to allow you to become quickly and deeply relaxed. Another way we can use imagery is in helping you to identify and install strengths that you can later use whenever you need them. For example, if you want to feel more confident, imagery can help you build your sense of confidence and then easily recall this feeling in any situation.
Clinical Applications of Imagery
There are many clinical applications of Guided imagery; here is a list of some of the situations in which guided imagery can be particularly helpful:
- Cancer treatment and life-threatening illnesses
- Changing lifestyle behaviors
- Family and parenting
- Fertility, birthing and delivery
- Fitness training
- Grief issues
- Immune system enhancement
- Managing chronic illnesses
- Mind/body issues
- Meaning and purpose exploration
- Pain management
- Performance enhancement
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Preparation for surgery and medical procedures
- Relationship issues
- Relieving physical symptoms
- Relaxation training
- Sleep disorders
- Smoking cessation
- Stress management
- Survivors of abuse
- Weight management
Who Can Benefit?
Adults, children and teens can all benefit from guided imagery. In fact, children are natural imagers, as they are used to spending time in the imaginary world. While some teens may be reluctant to participate at first, I have had good results working with many teens using imagery in a variety of settings.
- Bobby is a 10 year old boy whose fear of doctors had precluded any medical exams for two years. He became very fearful of needles and refused to go in for his annual exam. He and his mother wanted to overcome this fear as he needed to have a physical exam in the near future. I worked with Bobby on helping him to imagine his "safe place" which, for him, was his bedroom. When he became comfortable with this, we progressed to using evocative imagery. I had him imagine a time he had felt very brave, which turned out to be when he went on an after-dark hike with his scout group. He was able to vividly recall his brave feelings on the hike with the help of imagery. We then anchored this "brave feeling" with a squeezing of his fist so he could easily recall this feeling when needed. We next practiced recalling and holding onto this brave feeling while mentally rehearsing his visit to the pediatrician. He reported toward the end of our work that he was feeling much more confident. His mother reported that he had been able to visit the doctor with a minimum and anxiety and that recalling his brave feeling while using his anchor had helped greatly.
- Sally is an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse and reported often being unable to feel relaxed and peaceful-she always felt "on edge". She also reported often doubting her own judgment and perceptions because her abusive father had always told her that she was wrong, that she had not been abused. We worked together on establishing a safe place and then connecting with her inner advisor, who was a wise old man figure. This connection with her inner advisor was very strong and powerful for Sally. She was able to feel centered and calm while connecting with her advisor figure. This connection also provided a very validating experience, as her advisor gave her very affirming and non-shaming messages, something she had sorely lacked in childhood and later in her life. Gradually, she began to be able to trust her own perceptions as she continued to check things out with her advisor figure. She also found that she was able to hold onto the relaxed and centered feeling throughout the day, even when she was not actively engaged in imagery.
- Tom is a life coach who occasionally gives workshops to the public. He wanted to work on feeling more connected with the audience so that his workshops would be more interactive and effective. Using evocative imagery, we helped Tom create a vivid image of an especially successful workshop he had given when he felt very connected with the audience. He decided to use an anchor of an image of a flame in his forehead and chest area to recall the feeling. He then reported successfully using his anchor to recall his feeling of connection before speaking engagements. He reported that this allowed him to feel more confident and connected with his audience and was pleased that this tool was so simple and easy to use.
- Matt is a 40 year old man with a 2 year old arm injury that he had sustained at work. Although he had undergone much medical treatment and physical therapy to help repair his arm, it still caused him much pain and inhibited his work. I had Matt allow an image of his injured arm to form and then facilitated a dialogue between Matt and his arm. He was able to get a very vivid image of his arm, seeing it as a rusty hinge that hurt every time he moved it. Through exploring this image in detail and dialoguing with it, he was able to get in touch with a lot of residual anger he had toward his arm for not healing as fast as he would have liked. This allowed him to talk about the many ways that his injury had negatively affected his life. Matt was then able to use imagery to develop a more supportive, understanding, and patient attitude toward his arm and the healing process that needed to take place.
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