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What is Guided Imagery Therapy?


Guided imagery is a traditional mind-body technique that is also considered a form of hypnosis. Visualization and guided imagery offer tools to direct one’s concentration on images held in the mind's eye. These therapies take advantage of the connection between the visual brain and the involuntary nervous system. When this portion of the brain (the visual cortex at the back of the head) is activated, without receiving direct input from the eyes, it can influence physical and emotional states. This, in turn, can help elicit physiologic changes in the body, including therapeutic goals.

What is this therapy used for?
Because guided imagery is a mind-body therapy, any stress-related health concern, including high blood pressure, pain related to muscle tension, insomnia, and anxiety or depression, may be alleviated via this approach. Associated conditions, such as skin rashes or irritable bowel syndrome, are also amenable to guided imagery. It has been shown to be beneficial in treating autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, and can be useful to alleviate chronic allergies, hives and asthma.

The Academy for Guided Imagery (AGI) classifies the therapeutic application of guided imagery into three categories:

  1. Stress reduction and relaxation
  2. Active visualization or directed imagery - for improving performance, changing behavior, or influencing an outcome
  3. Receptive imagery - in which words and images are brought to consciousness to explore and give information about symptoms, treatments, moods or illnesses

The AGI website has a wealth of research-based information on specific disease processes that can be addressed with guided imagery.

What should one expect on a visit to a practitioner of guided imagery?
Guided imagery can be learned from books, self-help tapes, CDs, DVDs or in an interactive format utilizing a licensed practitioner to facilitate these techniques. Initially, guided imagery involves achieving a state of relaxation. To attain this, most clients begin by lying down or sitting in a comfortable chair, loosening any tight fitting clothes, and disabling common distractions, including televisions, cell phones and computers.  Practitioners often have a room that facilitates this process. After a client gets comfortable, breathing techniques, music, progressive muscle relaxation or a guided induction is often used to help foster a state of deep calm.

From there, a set of instructions or suggestions is given to allow one’s own images or imagination to guide him or herself toward the method of relieving symptoms. This can also include discovering images that have a message about particular symptoms or a condition, which can offer insight, understanding or better control of the physical concerns. Visualization exercises include graphic or vivid images that are held in the mind that produce healing and comfort. Moreover, the repetition of these exercises causes learning or a conditioning effect, so that the positive physical changes can eventually become available wherever and whenever the patient chooses to use them. Imagery is not necessarily just visual, but rather the use of all the senses. It can become more vivid if it is made bright and clear - that is, effort is made to actually hear, fell smell or even taste the imagined scene. How long one focuses on the techniques is less important than how regularly they are practiced - a few minutes every day can reap greater benefits than spending more time on it less often.

Are there any side effects or indications where guided imagery should be avoided?
There are no known contraindications for using guided imagery. This is not a technique, however, that should be incorporated into patient care when a client is uncomfortable about using it for personal or spiritual reasons. Mind-body approaches should be used in conjunction with, and not in place of, indicated physical therapies.

Is there a governing body that oversees or credentials practitioners of guided imagery?
The Academy for Guided Imagery (AGI) has a Professional Certification Training Program that provides in-depth training in Interactive Guided Imagerysm, or IGIsm. (The "sm" that follows the title stands for "service mark" and provides proprietary protection for a service similar to a trademark for a product). There are no titles for practitioners to use after their names. However, only those practitioners who have been certified by the AGI may represent themselves as practicing Interactive Guided Imagerysm or IGIsm.

How does one get in touch with a practitioner of guided imagery?
You can get a referral to a practitioner of guided imagery by contacting the website of the Academy for Guided Imagery (AGI) or 800-726-2070.

Are there other therapies that might work well in conjunction with guided imagery?
Mind-body medicine can work well as an adjunct to any conventional or alternative therapy. Imagery techniques are often used in conjunction with massage and other touch therapies. Guided imagery is frequently employed along with various forms of psychotherapy to facilitate behavioral change.



March 17, 2010
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