Guided imagery is an approach in which mental health professionals help cancer patients focus on mental images to elicit relaxation, a concept based on the mind-body connection. Mind-body connection props the synergy between body and mind as a crucial factor in a person’s overall health and well-being. Studies show that guided imagery is helpful in the treatment of several concerns like Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Grief, Posttraumatic stress, Diminished self-care. In guided therapeutic imagery, a person beckons on mental images to develop emotional and physical health for coping with cancer during cancer therapy.
Guided imagery has been used for centuries in various forms, dating back to ancient Greek times. The technique is an entrenched strategy in Chinese medicine, American Indian traditions, and many other religious and healing practices.
In the 1940s, Jacob Monero developed the technique Psychodrama. Enactment of the individual’s precise solicitudes may be understood as a way of directing an Individual’s very own imagery, which can be linked to guided imagery therapy. Later, Hans Leuner further refined psychodrama calling it guided affective imagery.
In the 1970s, Dr David Bressler & Dr Martin Rossman established pavement for the guided imagery as a practical approach to cope with chronic pain, cancer, and other serious illnesses, leading them to establish an Academy for Guided imagery in 1989.
Later in the 1980s, individuals like Leslie Davenport, Schoettleand Helen Bonny, the health advocated and professionals, published works exploring the positive impact of the guided imagery therapy on mental and physical health concerns.
In the past few years, guided imagery is an ingrained strategy in integrative medicine or complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for different types of cancer and different stages of cancer.
Effects on the Body
Guided imagery provides notable stress reduction benefits, including physically calming the body quickly with efficiency and helping cancer patients to get in touch with more profound levels of wisdom (that is contained in a subconscious level) that would help them facilitate their lives in ways that would cut back on stress.
There are so many studies showings the health benefits of guided imagery that many hospitals are using this technique as an option to assist with treatment. Providentially, it’s a pretty simple technique that can be used at home with positive results too.
In addition to emotional and behavioural issues, guided imagery is also extensively used by health professionals to treat pain management, high blood pressure and reducing undesirable behaviours.
For example, a cancer patient receiving standard cancer treatment can use guided imagery to visualize healthy cells and robust, powerful organs as a part of complementary therapy for coping with cancer and healing cancer.
Guided imagery therapy techniques
Once the technique is learnt, it can be practiced independently, without the supervision of a professional/therapist. Guided imagery scripts can be found in self-help books and also online. Even though guided imagery can be practiced on your own, taking the help of a professional/therapist would be the best start.
Generally, a professional/therapist uses verbal prompting to steer the focus of imagery, often prompting the individual to discern multiple sensory aspects of the scene/ image that extends beyond visualization involving all the five senses. As guided imagery is designed to affect the body and the mind, and the respiratory commonly turns slower and more controlled throughout the process. At the same time, muscle groups relax, developing a calm and relaxed state. Some professionals/therapists use music as part of the procedure.
For example, the person in the therapy will be directed to envision a tranquil place, including sounds, aromas, and the textures present.
The general guidelines to practise the guided imagery technique on your own is
- Getting into a relaxed and comfortable position so that your physical comfort will not be a distraction.
- Closing your eyes and breathing deeply using the diaphragm, focusing on “breathing in peace and breathing out stress”, letting the belly contract and expand along with the breathing.
- After getting into a relaxed state, start envisioning yourself amidst the most relaxing environment you can imagine.
- Immerse yourself in the sensory details, involving all your senses like sounds, aromas, and textures.
- Relax and enjoy your surroundings, letting away the stress, and when your ready to come back to reality, start counting the numbers from backwards to one.
Also, one can use a timer or an alarm in case of losing track of time, using ambient music complementing your imagery. The more you practise, you will be able to go more profound and quicker.
Limitation of guided imagery therapy
Although many studies support guided imagery therapy, some studies proposed that it can lead to false memories (an incident that the individual clearly remembers but that either did not happen or did not happen the way the individual remembers it), such as group pressure and personal experiences, personality factors.
Guided imagery may not work for every person, as some people prefer to address their concerns through other approaches.
This technique is generally considered safe for most people, whether they choose to seek the assistance of a professional/therapist or use self-guided imagery. Initial guidance from a therapist is recommended and help from a professional is always recommended if a person has serious concerns.