What Is Guided Imagery?
Guided imagery has grown increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason. Guided imagery is a form of psychotherapy in which someone – usually the psychotherapist or someone trained in guided imagery – leads you through a series of visualizations. The guide typically leaves a significant portion of the guided imagery up to you, which allows your imagination to grab hold of the process and really make it your own. The guide prompts you to deal with whatever issues you are working through with the imagery in a non-confrontational, calming way.
Because of the basic structure of the exercise, it is essentially an induced dreaming or daydreaming, and it allows your subconscious to express itself while you are actually awake. The practice of guided imagery is similar in effect to meditation, though the difference lies in that meditation is not an attempt to engage the imagination and the subconscious, but rather a focusing on the mind. Meditation is more about mental training than about therapeutic mental calming (although guided imagery can do both of these things). The benefits of guided imagery are, naturally, huge.
What Do You Do During a Guided Imagery Session?
Usually, the goal of guided imagery is to get you to relax. If you are stressed about something, it is usually because you are worrying and are allowing your mind to operate on autopilot. Guided imagery consciously relaxes that stress, and consciously induces positive emotions that allow your body to deal with whatever psychological or physical issues you are facing. Incidentally, you don’t have to be going through some sort of mental or health trauma to benefit from guided imagery, it can be useful to anyone.
Your guide has a huge number of scripts they can lead you with, so it’s impossible to say exactly where your mind will be going during a guided imagery session, but often, they will ask you to picture a certain calming environment. It may be indoors or it may be in nature (or they may leave this up to you), but they will lead you through a number of prompts that will have you visualize many of the main aspects of the environment you are in.
Then they may have you meet a person or an animal, or they may ask you to picture any physical pain, desire, or mental stress, and observe it as if from the outside. Often, chemotherapy patients undergoing guided imagery are asked to view the chemo as healing light.
What exactly you visualize is ultimately going to be up to you and the person leading your guided imagery. There are countless possible prompts and countless possible images, and some of them may work better for you than others. You will learn over time how it works and how to best make it work for you.
How Does it Work?
The best way to explain guided imagery is by explaining the placebo effect. In all medicinal studies, a medicine must be compared against a placebo, or a fake, non-functional medicine (usually a sugar pill, if the other medicine is in the pill form), which is administered to a control group. The benefits of the medication in the patients that received the real medication are compared with those that got no medication, but thought they were getting the medication.
The interesting thing about the placebo effect is that, despite the fact that many of the patients aren’t getting medicine, if they THINK they are getting medicine, their health still improves. And that’s just with a mind that thinks it has taken a pill. Imagine if the entire mind is focused on helping you get better.
Guided imagery helps put your mind in a healthy, calm state, which can have tremendous benefits on your body. Its greatest effect is in battling stress. Stress is a major health issue, and it takes place entirely in the mind. Stress can contribute to high blood pressure, insomnia, ulcers, headaches, stomachaches, and even rashes. And all of these things cause further health problems. Getting rid of or reducing stress is a massive boon to your health.
Guided imagery helps to reduce the power that stress has over your mind by allowing you to visualize the problem you are facing, and then either overcome or dissipate the harm of that problem. It takes the power away from the stress, the disease, or the anxiety, and it turn, greatly improves your mental and, as a result, your physical health.
Who Is It For?
Anyone can benefit from guided imagery. This is a process that has no possible negative effects, as it is, at the end of the day, just using your mind and imagination in a productive way, and it can work in your favor for a vast number of possible problems. If you have stress over work, your kids, school, your relationships, or sports, guided imagery can help.
If you have a health problem from something as simple as a common cold to something as dangerous as cancer or HIV, guided imagery can help.
You will hear stories of guided imagery turning around massive health problems, even turning lives around. While none of this can be promised by guided imagery – it works to varying degrees on different people and under different circumstances – it CAN be promised that guided imagery can calm you down and reduce your stress. And that alone has major physiological benefits.
As more research has been done on the connection between the brain and the body, the more we have discovered that each one greatly influences the other. It may be that training our own minds to serve as our personal doctors is the best possible thing we can do for our health.
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