guided imagery therapy for stress reductionVisualization and guided imagery therapies provide another course for stress reduction. These therapeutic remedies include the use of methodical process of forming a definite mental image of a relaxing and interesting environment or setting. Guided imagery can be carried out in isolation, but is oftentimes combined with relaxation techniques such as massage and regular muscle relaxation. When combined with these techniques, the treatment conjoins the feeling of relaxation with the relaxing visual image. This way, future sessions of guided imagery will only make use of imagery alone because it will instantly bring back to mind the feelings of relaxation.

What is guided imagery?

Guided imagery is a form of hypnosis and is considered a traditional therapy for body and mind. Visualization and guided imagery provide mechanism to focus your attention on images depicted in the mind’s perception. These therapies make use of the link between the visual brain and the involuntary nervous system. When the visual cortex portion of the brain is stimulated, it can affect the emotional and physical state even without obtaining immediate input from the eyes. Activation of this portion of the brain helps bring out physiologic development in the body which also includes therapeutic effect.

Visualization and guide imagery techniques help people relax in many ways:

  • they associate a feature of distraction which acts to avert people’s concentration away from stressing thoughts and direct the focus towards calming thoughts;
  • they provide non-verbal direction or instructed suggestion to the unconscious mind and body to act as if the beautiful and serene surrounding was real;
  • guided imagery works through the accompanying procedure stated above that turns scenes into signals that bring back sensations and memories from past relaxation sessions.

These techniques are considered as forms of guided meditation. Just like other forms of meditation, imagery techniques also teach people how to isolate themselves from undesirable fixations accumulated in their minds and instead inculcate a peaceful detachment which is soothing to the feelings and thoughts flowing through the mind.

Guided imagery is exceptionally convenient as it commits on nothing more than your concentration and imagination capabilities which are natural to people. To attain fuller and deeper mental concentration, choose a setting free from distractions. If there is no other suitable peaceful and private place available, you can use the bathroom.

Following the steps listed below will guide you in practicing visual imagery technique the proper way:

  • Find an isolated and quiet place such as a private room and make sure you will not be distracted during the therapy.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly to focus your attention and free your mind from any disturbing thoughts.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Visualize yourself in a relaxing and beautiful place where you would ideally find yourself most relaxed. It could be a tranquil forest, refreshing beach, mountain, or you can just simply imagine yourself sitting on your favorite chair.
  • Picture yourself becoming relaxed and calm. It is also better to picture yourself feeling happy, smiling, laughing, and enjoying a good time.
  • Aim your attention on various senses relating to the present scene to make it more realistic and clearer in your mind. For example, if you are visualizing a tropical forest, concentrate on graphically imagining the chirping of the birds, gushing of the wind, the gentle fall of the leaves, the bright rays of the sunlight, and the smell of fresh air. All of these things surrounding you while you are sitting on a log chair enjoying a cup of herbal tea. There are lots of possibilities to stimulate your senses. The more you enforce these specific details, the clearer the picture will become.
  • Stay in your scene for five to ten minutes or longer until you feel totally relaxed.
  • Convince yourself that you can go back to this place anytime you need to relax.
  • When you’re ready to rejoin your reality, open your eyes.

There are many books and audio programs available which can assist you in learning and understanding the application of visualization and guided imagery techniques in promoting relaxation and stress reduction.

Benefits of visualization and guided imagery

These therapies effectively address any stress-related health condition which includes:

  • anxiety or depression,
  • high blood pressure,
  • insomnia,
  • chronic pain associated with muscle tension,
  • irritable bowel syndrome,
  • skin rashes,
  • Crohn’s disease,
  • rheumatoid arthritis,
  • asthma,
  • hives,
  • and chronic allergies.

Research has classified the therapeutic benefits of guided imagery into 3 categories:

  • Relaxation and stress reduction
  • Directed imagery or active visualization – for the improvement of performance and change in behavior
  • Receptive imagery – images and phrases are conveyed to apprehension to examine and give understanding about moods, symptoms, illnesses, and treatments.

Guided imagery with the aid of a practitioner

Although guided imagery can be learned on your own from books and audio-video programs such as CDs or DVDs, seeking the aid of a licensed practitioner to guide you in these techniques can greatly help you achieve an optimum state of relaxation. Advantages of utilizing a practitioner include the security of your isolation and easier visualizations are attained with the guidance of other entity.

To begin the procedure, the client will be asked to lie down or sit on a comfortable chair while taking away any possible distractions such as cell phones, computers or televisions. The client and the practitioner are often confined in a room to facilitate the procedure. The practitioner will instruct the client about the various techniques in breathing and guided induction with the help of relaxing music to help promote a deeper state of relaxation.

A set of suggestions and instructions is provided to allow the client to form images, guiding him or her to visualize the exact picture the client wants to attain. Visualization practices involve producing vivid images that are retained in the mind and are easily accessed for future sessions. In addition, regular practice will make the image clearer and brighter and is more available for people anytime they need it.

Make sure that the practitioner guiding you is professionally-trained and licensed. The Academy for Guided Imagery (AGI) is a governing organization that supervises the credentials of guided imagery practitioners. This body offers Professional Certification Training Program that gives comprehensive training to aspiring practitioners. Look for this license before scheduling an appointment for guided imagery sessions.

Are there any side effects or contraindications of using guided imagery?

As to this day, there are no reported negative effects or contraindications in the practice of guided imagery. It is a highly recommended mind-body approach intended to be used in combination with prescribed physical therapies such as massage or other touch therapies. This is usually paired with other types of psychotherapy to assist behavioral transformation. However, these techniques should not be used as substitute or replacement for physical therapies.