The Power of Guided Imagery for Mental Health

Guided imagery is widely recognized as an effective stress management tool. Research has also demonstrated its usefulness for enhancing sleep, decreasing pain, alleviating depression, curbing overeating, and boosting the body’s natural ability to heal. In light of the evidence, a growing number of hospitals are incorporating guided imagery as an adjunct treatment option.

But what exactly is guided imagery? 

Guided imagery can be thought of as “directed daydreaming”. Through work with a professional or by listening to an audio recording, participants are invited to follow along with a narrative, while including their five senses in the story being told. The narrative can involve visualizing a peaceful place, picturing positive energy entering the body, or even envisioning cancer cells dissolving. Other examples of guided imagery focus on imagining a wise guide who helps participants to obtain insight into a problem they’ve been facing. This wisdom is held at a subconscious level, and is accessed through the pseudo-hypnotic state that people achieve using guided imagery.

Through the application of guided imagery, the overcharged mind, which is so used to being in go-go-go mode, quiets down. The body – including various physiological reactions associated with stress – also settles. Often, people who struggle with meditation and relaxation report finding success with guided imagery.

Of course, the use of images for the purpose of relaxation and healing is nothing new. In Eastern medicine, envisioning well-being has always been used to treat ailments. In Tibetan medicine, in particular, creating a mental image of the healing god was said to improve patients’ chances for recovery. Similarly, the ancient Greeks had patients use imagery as part of the restorative process. 

In the 1960s, researchers in the field of psychology first began exploring the power of the mind to affect the physical body. They found that, with intention, patients were able to slow their heart rates, lower their blood pressure, and even open lungs affected by asthma. Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist, observed that when people intentionally calmed their racing thoughts, their bodies would follow with relaxed breathing and lower blood pressure. Dr. Benson labelled this phenomenon the “relaxation response.” Guided imagery makes use of these findings. 

If you’d like to learn more about guided imagery, Lightwell’s programs all include a guided imagery component. As well, through our video therapy sessions, our clinicians are able to assist you in practicing this valuable technique.