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What is Guided Imagery?

Updated on January 21, 2013

Guided Imagery, Guided Meditation, Visualization

Guided imagery, a complementary medicine mind-body technique, is a process of using your imagination to communicate with your body to aid its natural healing processes for many types of issues from feelings of anxiety or depression to helping to control high blood pressure and assist in pain relief. Guided imagery is a type of focused relaxation.

Guided imagery is sometimes also referred to as visualization and is very similar to, and often referred to as guided meditation. The term you use matters less than the experience of the process itself.

The Many Wonders of Guided Imagery

Guided Imagery and Healing

Benefits of Guided Imagery, Guided Meditation

The benefits of guided imagery/visualization/guided meditation are wide-ranging through the ability to achieve deep relaxation and positive focus:

  • Decrease depression
  • Decrease anxiety
  • Decrease anxiety
  • Promote relaxation, calmness
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decrease pain
  • Decrease side effects
  • Reduce nausea
  • Enhance sleep
  • Improve immune system
  • Decrease respiratory difficulties
  • Shorten hospital stay
  • Enhance self-confidence
  • Enhance healing
  • Enhance sleep

Guided imagery/guided meditation are techniques that are often used in stress management plans. In reducing your stress, or preventing it, you may gain many of the above-mentioned benefits. The effect of negative emotions on your overall health cannot be overlooked. Guided imagery allows you to take back control of your thoughts and reduce or eliminate the effects of those negative thoughts and feelings.

The brain is a powerful tool. Look at how thoughts of illness sometimes manifest themselves in physical symptoms in psych-somatic illnesses. Guided imagery allows you to harness the positive power of your mind for the benefit of mind and body.

Guided Imagery, Guided Meditation To Be Avoided in Some Situations

There are some conditions people may have for which guided imagery is not recommended:

  • People who have hallucinations
  • People with dementia or delirium
  • Someone who is actively psychotic
  • Someone who is unable to communicate
  • People who cannot think abstractly
  • People who have delusions
  • People who cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality

These altered states of thinking do not gain value from guided imagery and may instead cause further problems.

In addition, anyone who feels uncomfortable with the techniques of guided imagery are less likely to benefit from its use, and should not be encouraged to "try it anyway." Guided imagery/guided meditation should not be used instead of traditional medical care, but in addition to it.

Research into Guided Imagery

The traditional Western medical community has been conducting scientific research into guided imagery -- over 200 studies have been performed in the last three decades.

A study of the use of complementary and alternative medicines, CAM, in cardiovascular disease, published Nov. 2012 in the American Journal of Cardiology that surveyed over 1,000 patients. Eighty-two percent of the surveyed participants admitted to using CAM techniques; only 14 percent of those had discussed the use of those techniques with their health care providers. Guided imagery was one of the top four CAM techniques used. Researchers concluded that integrative measures to be used in cardiovascular disease treatment be considered in future studies.

Two studies, one on the effectiveness of guided imagery to lessen/control musculoskeletal pain, published Sept. 2011, the other on the effectiveness of guided imagery to lessen/control non-musculoskeletal pain, published July 2012 were unable to reach definitive conclusions. Each of these studies were reviews of the research completed to date in the two areas. The reviews suggest the information to be encouraging about the use of guided imagery for pain control, but the studies performed so far were lacking in sufficient objective data to make any conclusive determinations.

The same non-conclusive results occurred in research to measure the efficacy of guided imagery in fibromyalgia in a study published June 2011.

The inability of these clinical studies to reach conclusive results on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of guided imagery in these and other conditions is due to the methods used in the studies. Until clinical studies are designed with objective measuring criteria, the outcomes are likely to remain the same. And because pain itself is a subjective symptom, finding ways to measure it objectively is an issue.

How to Do Guided Imagery by Belleruth Naparstek

How Do You Do Guided Imagery?

Guided imagery is an equal opportunity technique that almost anyone can do. It's a right brain activity, so it is likely that during your focused relaxation you'll experience emotions, empathy, sensitivity to music, laughter and intuition. Just flow with these experiences, let them flow with you and through you.

Guided imagery makes use of as many of your five senses as possible; it is not just visualization. The more senses you can get involved, the deeper the relaxation and calm you'll likely experience.

How do you "do" guided imagery? Listen to the accompanying video; Belleruth Naparstek explains the basic process of guided imagery.

Guided Imagery/Guided Meditation to Release Fear, Anxiety, Stress

Note to Reader:

This information is not a substitute for medical advice or intended to replace any medical advice you've received. Consult with your health care provider before beginning any complementary or alternative medical therapies or practices.


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    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Dreamhowl, I know that I've been using guided imagery to help combat those nights when I lie down to sleep and the mind keeps working. It doesn't take much time before I am able to quiet those thoughts and fall asleep.

      Appreciate the read, comment and vote. Happy New Year!

    • Dreamhowl profile image

      Jessica Marello 5 years ago from United States

      I still remember my guided imagery experience back in high school health class. Great hub, and voted up!


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