Guided Imagery Therapy

At the back of your brain is the visual cortex. It has strong connections to your involuntary nervous system. When you close your eyes and hold an image in your mind the visual cortex is activated. This affects your emotional and physical state and can lead to changes in the body and psyche.

Guided imagery therapy, sometimes called visualization, uses images in the mind’s eye to facilitate change or healing. Client’s voluntarily enter an altered state of consciousness by relaxing and focusing on mental images. Although therapists often guide the imagery, clients remain in control of the mental pictures at all times.

Uses of Guided Imagery

Because guided imagery is a mind-body treatment it is very effective with symptoms or illnesses related to stress such as anxiety, high blood pressure, painful muscle tension, irritable bowel syndrome, and skin rashes.

The Academy of Guided Imagery (AGI) defines the uses of visualization therapy this way:

  1. To promote stress reduction and relaxation.
  2. To change behaviors, enhance performance (sports, public speaking), and bring about desired outcomes by influencing the mind, emotions, and behavior.
  3. To gain information by exploring images related to symptoms, mood, illness, or treatment methods.

Examples of Uses for Imagery Therapy:

  • Mild to moderate depression, anxiety, PTSD, phobias, OCD, and sexual dysfunctions
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and chronic fatigue
  • Allergies, asthma, and hives
  • Behavior disorders in children
  • Shyness, stuttering
  • Acute and chronic pain reduction
  • Preparing for a future event such as childbirth, sports event, or job interview

The Therapy Session

People can teach themselves to use guided imagery with books, websites, CDs, DVDs, and YouTube videos. Many psychotherapists utilize this technique during sessions with their clients to facilitate change. Some therapists specialize in guided imagery, and they can choose to become certified in this technique through AGI.

A first visit to a guided imagery therapist will likely involve an assessment of client problems and needs, so the counselor can suggest suitable imagery exercises. This is also a good time for the therapist to explain guided imagery to those who are unfamiliar, and provide clients general information about the therapy practice.

To begin an imagery session, the client must first get comfortable and relax. This may be accomplished by playing soft music, using controlled breathing, or muscle relaxation techniques. This will vary with each therapist.

Once relaxed, clients are guided by the therapist to imagine specific images. This will involve making the images as lifelike as possible by adding sounds, textures, smells, and tastes to the mental picture.

One exercise a counselor might suggest is holding a vivid image in the mind to provide a sense of comfort, or to promote healing. Another typical exercise involves allowing the images to show the client useful methods of treatment or symptom relief.

The effectiveness of this therapy depends on the client practicing the imagery regularly between sessions.

A Couple More Things

There are no known side effects linked to guided imagery, but it should only be used with those who are comfortable applying the technique. Visualization is often applied in conjunction with massage and touch therapies, conventional and alternative medicines, and psychotherapy; it is not recommended as a primary or sole treatment.

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Further Reading


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