What's the reason I use guided imagery with my clients? It is the only specialized alternative treatment technique that allows my clients to release the very real physical and emotional effect of past traumas. You are able to calm and focus your mind on the present, which allows your past to truly live in the past where it belongs.   You are no longer afraid, but rather you feel empowered.  Anxiety doesn't overwhelm you.  Stress can't find you.  In difficult situations you remain calm and focused, which benefits your heart, your weight and your energy level.  You just live, instead of cutting daily activities short, or not starting them at all, or worse - self soothing with drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, gaming...

 What is Guided Imagery?

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Guided imagery has been described as a kind of "directed daydreaming." It is based on the generally accepted idea that the mind can influence the body. For example, if you relax and think about a juicy, fresh lemon, then imagine slicing it and slowly raising the dripping, pale yellow sections to your waiting lips and sucking on them, chances are you will experience a standard physic­al response: you will salivate. Advocates of this technique argue that people possess a remarkable degree of self-regulation that generally goes unknown, unexplored, and unused.

So guided imagery is a method of using your imagination to help you cope better with stress, anxiety, cravings, life...the term "imagery" refers to the symbols and pictures that make up your thoughts memories, dreams, even your feelings.  The rationale behind guided imagery is that your thoughts give rise to your emotions, which in turn greatly affect your well-being.  Visualizing positive images regarding your life can improve your ability to handle stress and even make you feel better physically.  Imagining yourself in a safe place can help you to feel calm.  The technique is amazingly useful for treating conditions that are caused or aggravated by stress, such as depression, anxiety or addictions.  Athletes and actors frequently use guided visualization to improve their performance.

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Thoughts or "images" can affect heart and breathing rate, as well as other involuntary functions such as hormone levels, gastrointestinal secretions, and brain wave patterns. Advocates of guided imagery therefore stress the importance of the image (thought) which, they say, does not have to be real to have a actual, physical effect. Guided imagery takes the next step and asks why the mind can't be used to cause good things to happen within the body. Also called visualization, creative visualization, or creative imagery, this technique teaches how to consciously create positive images to accomplish a desired goal. One neurological explanation of what might go on in the brain during guided imagery is that the image or message is sent from the higher centers of the brain (cerebral cortex) to the lower or more primitive centers that regulate a person's involuntary functions, like breathing and heart rate. Whether or not these images are real, the lower part of the brain apparently responds accordingly as long as there is no contradictory information.

What Does a Therapeutic Guided Imagery Session Involve?

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In a typical guided imagery session, the client is placed in a relaxed state by the verbal guidance of the practitioner. This calm, receptive state is deepened through breathing exercises. This allows the patient to give real focus and direction to his or her imagination. Once truly deep relaxation is achieved, the practitioner encourages the patient to choose a safe place, a very personal, truly serene site that may or may not actually exist, in which the patient feels perfect emotional security. It is at this point that the practitioner begins to work on the particular goal of therapy, whether it is to reduce stress or anxiety, manage the constant cravings of an addiction, release trauma, or assist in a physical healing process.  To experience this for yourself, please TXT or Call 714.743.5612 and ask for Dr. Mickey.


Guided Imagery from World of Health. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation

 How Does Guided Imagery Work?

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When you're worried about something, your mind is full of thoughts of danger, and your nervous system prepares you to meet that danger by initiating the fight, flight, freeze response.  Your levels of stress hormones shoot up, your breathing and heart rate accelerate, your muscles tense, and you end up tired and nervous, rather than calm and rested.  Studies show that envisioning positive images can help you disarm this stress response before it gets going.  It can help you feel in control and better able to cope with pain, fear, cravings, life...As an example, smoking induces a bodily reaction similar to other kinds of stress; increased blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension.  A 2005 study found that guided imagery helped smokers stop smoking and remain abstinent over a 24 month period.



Medical Research

Medical Research On Guided Imagery Improving Mental Health

             The world-renowned Mayo Clinic describes Guided Imagery as “…a learning process to listen to someone’s voice, relax the breathing and consciously direct the ability to imagine.  The effect of guided vivid imagery sends a message to the emotional control center of the brain.  From there, the message is passed along to the body’s endocrine, immune and autonomic nervous systems.  These systems influence a wide range of bodily functions, including heart, breathing rates and blood pressure.  The Mayo Clinic goes on to state that Guided Imagery provides the following benefits to clients:

Reduces pre-surgery fear and anxiety, post surgery need for prolonged pain medications, and allowed clients to leave the hospital more quickly than those who had not used Guided Imagery.
Improves the client’s ability to manage stress.
Aids the client’s ability to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches just as effectively as taking preventative medications.


The US Veterans Administration as well as the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health researched guided imagery’s usefulness in treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)  They reported significant improvements in the reduction of nightmare frequency and intensity, increased positive mood states, improved sense of self and others and improved cognitive and emotional functioning.


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Noted Guided Imagery Therapists, Charles D. Leviton, Ed.D. and Patti Leviton, M.A., teach us that “The value of imagery is that imagery can diagnose a problem, provide options for change, and even promote healing and personal empowerment.  Its primary purpose is to allow the body to relax, healing the physical and emotional aspects of self.”

We discover from Health Journeys Magazine the Three Principles of Guided Imagery, which are:

The Mind Body Connection - Images are events to the body.

To the body, images created in the mind can be almost as real as actual events. 

The Meditative State - The power of the meditative state

In a meditative, relaxed state, we are capable of a more rapid and intense emotional and physical healing, and intuitive insight.

The Locus of Control - The importance of feeling in charge

When we have a sense of being in control, and have available to us a simple technique that we can use whenever, wherever and however we wish, we support our sense of wellness, self sufficiency, and self-esteem.


The Cancer Librarians Section of the Medical Librarian Association states that Guided Imagery “…is considered a complimentary therapy that works well with traditional treatments.  Guided Imagery can reduce stress, anxiety, enhance personal awareness, and improve psychological coping skills and improve their quality of life with a positive mental attitude.” 

The Cleveland Clinic states, “Clinical studies have shown that anxiety can intensify pain, prolong recovery time and lower the immune system.  Guided Imagery can bring about the state of mind and body most conducive to healing.”  This article goes on to state the benefits of guided imagery:

1.      Reduce stress and anxiety

2.      Decrease pain and narcotic consumption

3.      Enhance sleep

4.      Increase client’s satisfaction and quality of life

 Researchers at such prestigious sites as Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, Massachusetts General Hospital, Yale, and Michigan State University have all done studies on the effectiveness of guided imagery.  Their topics ranged from treating canker sores, to treating depression, to mental and physical pain, and cancer.  All concluded that guided imagery significantly improved the overall quality of life for the participants, by reducing symptoms such as pain, improving their immune response which improved their recovery rate and shortened the length of time of their illness, and improved their self-esteem.


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Psychology Suite 101 reports that “if you’re looking for a way to ease chronic pain, speed the healing process, or reduce anxiety and stress, consider guided imagery.  It’s an alternative therapy that’s noninvasive and drug-free.”   The publication explains that guided imagery “sends direct, positive messages to the emotional control center of the brain.  Those messages then travel to your immune system and autonomic nervous system, which affects your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rates…You let positive hormones flood your body, and you concentrate on keeping that positive energy strong.  Your body can’t differentiate between reality and thoughts…you imagine positive events – and your body responds in healthy ways.” 

Imagery is at the center of relaxation techniques designed to release brain chemicals that act as your body’s natural brain tranquilizers, lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels.  Researchers find that these techniques work for headaches, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and spastic colon.

 Medical Research on Guided Imagery

Enhancing Medical Treatment Outcome

Dartmouth Medicine reports “Dr. William Nugent, a distinguished cardiovascular surgeon calls his discovery of guided imagery “an epiphany”.  Guided imagery incorporates the power of the mind to help the body heal, maintain health or relax.  It aims to forge a balance between mind, body, and spirit.  Proponents say that tapping into the mind-body connection can strengthen the immune system, reduce anxiety, ease pain, and improve sleep.  The magazine summarized that guided imagery is increasingly accepted in mainstream medicine. 

Two studies affirming its value have been conducted at Harvard teaching hospitals.  And a Blue Shield of California study found that guided imagery increased patient satisfaction and cut costs by $2,000 per patient.

Hartford Hospital reports that “in addition to inducing a relaxation response and reducing chronic pain, guided imagery has been effective in many areas for the mind, body, and spirit by lowering cholesterol, reducing blood pressure and lessening the adverse effects of chemotherapy, etc.  Guided imagery can be used to reacquaint patients with their healthy side, give them back a measure of control, enhance their immunologic response to stress, reduce side effects of treatment and diminish anxiety and fear.  For persons with cancer, guided imagery has been found to reduce or arrest the side effects of nausea and vomiting, create a relaxation response, affect the immune system, and assist in the management of anxiety, pain and terminal illness.”

Studies by the University of Pittsburgh compared biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis, tai chi, qi gong, and yoga for their effectiveness in treating pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis.  Guided Imagery showed significant reduction in pain and mobility difficulties after 12 weeks, as reported in Pain Management Nursing.

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I wish to acknowledge the following publications used in the compilation of this fact sheet:  Dartmouth Medicine, Vital Signs, Winter, 2005.  Psychology.suite.101.com.  Holisticonline.com.  Health Journeys.  Mayo Clinic – Enhance Healing Through Guided Imagery, January 2, 2008.  Hartford Hospital at www.harthosp.org Charles D. Leviton, Ed.D and Patti Leviton, “Inner Peace Outward Power,” 2007.   Cleveland Clinic Guided Imagery Fact Sheet, 2008.  Cancer Librarians Section, Medical Library Association, 2002