Guided Imagery

December 16, 2008 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Tune In and Get Healthy

“The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” John Milton, Paradise Lost

Our mind plays a role in every healing journey or every healing crisis that we face. It all depends on how you look at it.

The placebo effect is probably the best known example of how the mind can aid the body in healing almost miraculously. We believe a fake medication or a treatment will work and our mind somehow facilitates an actual healing event.

Guided Imagery

Today, I want to discuss another way in which our minds can help us manage just about any health condition. The modality of today is called guided imagery. And, it can be very powerful according to recent scientific findings.

Guiding Your Way to Less Pain

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that affects approximately 2% of the general population. The causes of this condition aren’t well understood and the treatments are often very unpredictable.

Earlier this year a study was conducted at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing. The aim of the study was to investigate the effects of 10 weeks of relaxation and guided imagery therapy on Fibromyalgia sufferers.

At the end of week 10, there was a significant improvement in the patients management of pain, as well as their functional status (the ability to carry out daily activities).

Imagine a Better Cancer Outcome

In England, study of 80 women who underwent conventional treatment for breast cancer was recently published. The treatments included chemotherapy followed by surgery, radiotherapy and hormone treatment. A segment of these women were asked to participate in a relaxation and guided imagery program taught by the hospital. The remainder of the women did not participate in the mind-body exercises.

Over the course of 37 weeks, blood was drawn from all 80 women. The researchers analyzed the blood to check the levels and activity of various cancer-fighting cells.

The results were very encouraging for the mind-body group. There was a positive impact on their immune system (which combats cancer) while they were undergoing treatment and after the treatment ended.

Teaching the Mind to Heal the Body

Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a syndrome that causes pelvic pain and urinary frequency and urgency in over one million men and women in the United States. The authors of a recent study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, wanted to find out if a specific guided imagery CD (compact disc) could help to naturally relieve the symptoms associated with this syndrome.

A group of 30 IC sufferers were divided into two groups. 15 of them were asked to listen to a specially made guided imagery CD for twenty-five minutes twice-a-day. The other 15 participants were simply asked to rest for two sessions of the same duration.

The guided imagery CD attempted to focus the listeners’ attention towards “healing the bladder, relaxing the pelvic floor muscles and quieting the nerves specifically involved in IC”. At the end of the 8 week trial, 45% of the guided imagery patients reported a decrease in pain and in urinary urgency. No negative side effect were noted.

In my opinion, all of the studies cited are exciting because they show that we can strategically use our mind as a healing force. I’m also very optimistic because I see examples of mainstream medicine taking note of the potential of such mind-body approaches. For instance, in the beginning of 2008, the Mayo Clinic Health Letter promoted guided imagery as a resource for the following:

  • Headache management.
  • Stress reduction.
  • Reducing the side effects from cancer treatment.
  • Lessening pre-surgical fear and anxiety.
  • They also noted that shorter hospital stays and lower doses of pain medication may be needed by those utilizing guided imagery.

We’ve all heard that to be successful in life, we must use our heads. Now, we can add to that: If we want to stay or get healthy, we must also use our heads.

Be well!


Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Referenced Material and Additional Resources

Link – Academy for Guided Imagery

Link – Guided Imagery and Breast Cancer

Link – Guided Imagery and Interstitial Cystitis

Link – Mayo Clinic Health Letter on Guided Imagery

Link – Guided Imagery and Fibromyalgia

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Mental Health

One Comment to “Guided Imagery”

  1. JP Says:

    Updated 1/18/16:

    J Music Ther. 2015 Fall;52(3):323-52.

    Coping with Work-Related Stress through Guided Imagery and Music (GIM): Randomized Controlled Trial.

    BACKGROUND: Long-term stress-related sick leave constitutes a serious health threat and an economic burden on both the single worker and the society. Effective interventions for the rehabilitation and facilitation of return to work are needed.

    OBJECTIVE: The aim of the study was to examine the effects of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), a psychotherapy intervention including relaxation, music listening, and imagery, on biopsychosocial measures of work-related stress.

    METHODS: Twenty Danish workers on sick leave were randomized to music therapy versus wait-list control. Data collection was carried out at an occupational health ward in the period 2008-2010. Changes in salivary cortisol, testosterone, and melatonin were explored, and self-reported data on psychological stress symptoms (perceived stress, mood disturbance, sleep quality, physical distress symptoms, work readiness, well-being, anxiety, depression, immediate stress) were collected. Data regarding sick leave situation and job return were collected from participants throughout the study.

    RESULTS: Significant beneficial effects of GIM compared to wait-list after nine weeks with large effect sizes were found in well-being, mood disturbance, and physical distress, and in cortisol concentrations with a medium effect size. A comparison between early and late intervention as related to the onset of sick leave showed faster job return and significantly improved perceived stress, well-being, mood disturbance, depression, anxiety, and physical distress symptoms in favor of early intervention. In the whole sample, 83% of the participants had returned to work at nine weeks’ follow-up.

    CONCLUSIONS: The results indicate that GIM is a promising treatment for work-related chronic stress, and further studies are recommended.

    Be well!


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