Psychotherapy and Training Collective of New York

Guided Imagery: How it Can Positively Affect Your Emotional and Physical Health, Creativity and Performance, and Spirituality

Marilyn Sulzbacker, LCSW, BCD, CGP

What is it?
It is the use of mental imagery to effect positive changes in your life. It is not strictly visual or a "mental" activity as it involves the whole body, the emotions and all the senses, and it is precisely this body-based focus that makes for its powerful impact.

Even though it can be considered a kind of meditation, it is easier for most westerners to accept as not being the "airy –fairy" traditional meditation that some view it as, and it requires less time and discipline to develop a high level of skill. .

The people that I work with in my psychotherapy practice have benefited from the use of guided imagery . This has been due because I know them and can tailor the imagery to fit them and collaborate with them to create a detailed image of the setting, using all the perceptual senses, body sensations, movements, emotions, thoughts-- because this creates a more powerful brain imprint. People can invent their own imagery as well or listen to tapes that their own mind will edit to make it more suitable to themselves..

How does it work?
Firstly, it rests in the mind-body connection. To the body, images created in the mind can be almost as real as actual, external events. The mind doesn't quite get the difference. That's why, when we read a recipe, we start to salivate. The mind cues the body especially well if the images evoke sensory memory and fantasy sights, sounds, smells, feel and taste and when there is a strong emotional element involved. This could be something imaginary or an actual experience. For example, when you can fully recall a moment when someone important to you expressed pride in you—recalling their voice, facial expression, gives you a feeling of positive self-worth. In my work, I use this as a resource so it becomes a positive mental image which can be recalled in times when one may be having the opposite kind of experience..

Secondly, it creates an altered state allowing more rapid and intense healing, growth, learning and performance. There is a shift in brainwave activity and our biochemistry-our moods and cognition change. There is an intense state of focus, relaxed but energized, allowing one to perform and experience things that in ordinary less mindful states does not happen. The altered state is the power cell of guided imagery
Thirdly, there is the sense of being in control, that, in and of itself, can help us to feel better and do better.
Feeling in control is associated with higher optimism, self-esteem, and ability to tolerate pain, ambiguity and stress. .

What can it do?
Over the past 25 years, the effectiveness of guided imagery has been increasingly established by research findings that demonstrate its positive impact on emotional and physical health, creativity and performance. More specifically, we now know that in many instances even 10 minutes of imagery can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and glucose levels in the blood, and heighten short- term immune cell activity. It can considerably reduce blood loss during surgery and morphine use after it. It lessens headaches and pain. It can increase skill at skiing, skating, tennis, writing, acting and singing, in business, and public speaking; it accelerates weight loss and reduces anxiety; and it has been shown, again and again, to reduce the aversive effects of chemotherapy, especially nausea, depression and fatigue. It also improves the clarity in life via spiritual development; experiencing elation, freedom and expanded awareness; emotional and physical healing; profoundly deep relaxation; increasing confidence and personal empowerment; opening the heart and healing relationships; curing negativity or self-defeating behaviors and other psychological difficulties such as panic attacks, phobias, obsessions, flashbacks, anger and stress management ..

There are scripts that are specifically designed to target various areas of the human condition and can be applied to children as young as 3..

And as a final note, as the Buddha says—"what you can imagine you can become."