One popular CAM intervention that is being used by therapist and social workers is Guided Imagery (GI). Did you know that GI is an evidence-based practice? GI is a mind-body therapy. It has been defined as a “the thought process that invokes and uses senses: vision, audition, smell, taste, movement, position, and touch” (Trakhtenberg, 2008, p. 3). GI incorporates a variety of techniques which can include visualization, suggestion using imagery, and story-telling or narratives. Other forms of guided imagery involve evoking elements of the unconscious to consciousness via the imagination. GI is used to promote relaxation and positive health outcomes. Van Kuiken (2004) described four types of guided imagery: pleasant imagery (imagining a calm place), physiologically focused imagery (focusing on a bodily function or part of the body and needs healing), mental rehearsal or reframing (imagining a specific task or event before it happens), and receptive imagery (scanning the body to direct healing). Although GI has been used in alternative medical systems since ancient times, it was re-introduced into Western Medicine in the 1960’s. It has also been used in conjunction with hypnosis, relaxation techniques, and mindfulness meditation. GI is used in many settings. During GI sessions patients are taught to use either positive or negative images to combat illness. Positive thinking or images can be used to evoke relaxation and decrease pain. Aggressive or violent images can be used to fight disease or pain. Practice is encouraged in between sessions and can be supported with the use of audio tapes. The ultimate goal is for the patient to be able to conjure up an image which evokes the desired result as quickly as possible. GI is believed to work in different ways. It can evoke neurohormonal changes in the body that mimic the changes that occur when an actual event occur. By helping induce relaxation, it can promote a positive immunological response. Trakhtenberg completed a critical review of the immunological impact of GI. Donaldson (2000) hypothesized that GI may stimulate certain thoughts, which in turn could produce physiological outcomes that have an effect on the immune system. His findings indicated an increased in white blood cell counts after GI intervention. Hall et al. (1996) findings indicated that GI and relaxation was associated with decreases in neutrophil adherence. Rider and Achterberg (1989) were able to determine that cell-specific imagery was associated with statistically significant decreases in lymphocyte and neutrophil counts. Additional studies have been conducted utilizing GI with specific health problems including psychiatric disorders, cancer, pain, and to reduce stress associated with medical procedures and hospital stays (Hart, 2008). Given the research that supports the use of GI as an evidence-based practice and its portability how do you see being able to integrate GI into your practice?
Hart, J. (2008). Guided Imagery. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, 14(6), 295-299. doi:10.1089/act.2008.14604
Trakhtenberg, E. C. (2008). The Effects of Guided Imagery on the Immune System: A Critical Review. International Journal of Neuroscience, 118(6), 839-855. doi:10.1080/00207450701792705
Van Kuiken, D. (2004). A meta-analysis of the effect of guided imagery practice on outcomes. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 22, 164–179.