What Is Guided Imagery?

For some, the definition of guided imagery can be inferred from the term alone. Guided imagery is a technique that involves guiding the mind to a relaxed, tranquil state with suggestions and thoughts. Some people opt to use scripts or tapes to guiding their imaginations, while others will perform the technique in the presence of an instructor.

To put it simply, the concept of guided imagery is founded completely by the notion that the mind and body are always connected to each other. You can, in a sense, utilize every single one of your senses to simulate a real life experience in your own mind.

For instance, take a moment to think upon the way an orange appears and smells. You can likely smell the scent in your mind, and you can see the color and texture of the fruit there as well. While continuing to concentrate on the orange's scent, you might imagine yourself actually biting into it. You can likely feel the juices in your mouth just from your imagination alone. If your concentration is firm, there's a good chance your mouth will salivate. In this exercise alone, you can see how the body physically responds to what is happening in the imagination.

This concept can be applied to relaxing settings and circumstances. For example, you might imagine yourself in a beach or garden. These places are often perceived to be safe and calm. Once you can simulate being in these types of places in your mind, you can achieve mind-blowing states of relaxation. For some, reaching this state of tranquility can boost creativity, performance, learning potential, and healing processes. Likewise, guided imagery has the power to help you maintain a better grasp over your thought process and emotions. This promotes an overall better attitude, sense of wellbeing, and state of health.

A Short History of Guided Imagery

This technique hasn't always gone by the exact name, “guided imagery.” Formerly known as “guided affective imagery,” it was a psychotherapy tool ultimately discovered and used by Hanscarl Leuner, a German psychiatrist. In the latter 1900s, American music therapist, Helen Bonny released a new form of therapy known as “Guided Imagery and Music.” This type of psychotherapy paired closed-eye dialog with music to help people achieve total states of relaxation.

Over the years, this concept has been utilized time and time again for less structured and formal uses, and in some cases, people stopped using music altogether with the technique. It is now simply known as “guided imagery.”

How Safe is Guided Imagery?

Because guided imagery can seemingly transpose you into another setting, place, and mood, it would seem that there could be risks associated. However, it has been found that guided imagery is completely safe. At this time, there are no harmful risks associated with the technique. The only real risk associated with guided imagery is that the associated instructor might not be fully experienced with helping others reach states of total relaxation. Therefore, the session might be ineffective and pointless.

How is Guided Imagery Used?

There are many different ways in which guided imagery is used. These are just a few of the common reasons that people use guided imagery:

  • Meditation and relaxationRelaxation and meditation is immensely effective with people who suffer from large amounts of stress associated with work, education, family life, etc. It is a fantastic alternative to taking possibly harmful medication in order to manage stress levels.
  • Mood improvement – For those that find themselves frequently in sour or bad moods, guided imagery is a nice solution. This technique has also been shown to improve mood states in people who suffer from depression, anxiety, etc.
  • Coping mechanism for traumatic memories – In times of need, many people who live with past traumatic life experiences can use guided imagery to mitigate and eliminate emotional pain.
  • Healing from physical illness – In certain cases, guided imagery has been shown to aid in the healing process from physical illness. Once the body has achieved a calm, relaxed state, it is much more effective at facilitating the healing process.
  • The Benefits of Guided Imagery

    Possibly the most obvious benefit of guided imagery is its ability to transport people to a stress-free state of mind. While it is a rather simple technique, it is powerful enough to help people feel completely displaced from their current settings, circumstances, and situations. People even use guided imagery during medical procedures to offset a large portion of the stress and discomfort associated with them.

    Guided imagery has the power to introduce a sense of security into a person's life if it may not already exist. The technique can help a person create a safe place that they can imaginatively go if they happen to feel uncomfortable, uneasy, or worried. Likewise, it can help a person feel as though they have a sense of control over their own life. Guided imagery gives people the power to control their own environment, as well as add or subtract anything of their choosing to/from the environment.

    This technique is also extremely useful for helping people adopt positive viewpoints in their lives. It's a solid tool for re-discovering your center at times when you need it the most.

    Additionally, many people find that guided imagery greases the bearings for their creativity. Because this technique leaves the imaginary environment totally to your discretion, you have the ability to create any type of getaway imaginable. With guided imagery, the possibilities are quite endless.

    In some cases, the instructor in a guided imagery session will record the entirety of the therapy for his/her listener. This enables the listener to re-experience the therapy again, as well as reenter the state of relaxation without the instructor actually being present. If a listener reuses a recorded session many times, it's quite possible that the content will become familiar and dear to him/her. This could gradually strengthen the tranquility experienced when using the therapy.

    Why Does Guided Imagery Work?

    From face value, it might not immediately be clear why many people swear by guided imagery. How can you truly become relaxed through imagination alone?

    While guided imagery might be powered merely by thought, the feelings caused by these thoughts are, in fact, real. These feelings stem from your brain's close focus on the colors, feelings, climate, and landscape of your imaginary safe haven. As you focus on these attributes, your brain is telling your nervous system that these things are actually happening, even if it's just for a moment.

    While focused on this place of relaxation and tranquility, your cerebral cortex is sending signals to your body that it's okay to relax. In your imaginary setting, danger simply does not exist. Therefore, your body essentially lets its guard down and you can ultimately relax. In theory, you can stay in this safe place for as long as need be in order to sort through your emotions and feelings.

    This is why guided imagery often works so well on people who deal heavily with stress. While it's possible, to an extent, to manage and compartmentalize stress without help, it will only worsen as time goes on. This is why it's extremely important to people to create a place of comfort in which they can take refuge.

    Who Uses Guided Imagery?

    Practically anyone can gain some sort of takeaway from guided imagery therapy. Because the process consists entirely of using your brain to productively construct a safe place, it is not harmful or damaging in any way. This type of therapy can be useful in a number of circumstances. Practically any negative situation can be effectively negated through the use of guided imagery.

    As you research guided imagery, you'll come across many people who have watched their lives turn around for the better with guided imagery. Of course, there is no 100% guarantee that guided imagery will work in the same way on every single person who tries it, it has still been proven to be a solid form of therapeutic treatment for many. The best part about guided imagery therapy is that anyone who tries it has nothing to lose in the process. With an effective instructor, tape, or script, it's possible to reach emotional pinnacles that you never thought possible.

    Typical Length of Treatment

    Because each person is different, it's often difficult to know exactly how long they will require guided imagery to help them move past their difficulties in life. Some only use guided imagery a short number of times, while others go on to use guided imagery for the rest of their lives. Needs will differ from person to person, and it's difficult to know what type of role guided imagery will play in anyone's life without examining all facets of the given situation.

    If you're thinking about using guided imagery, be sure to talk with your doctor first. This is especially important if you are planning on incorporating guided imagery into your pain management strategy. Keep in mind that it's always a good idea to keep your doctor informed about the measures you're taking for your health.