Guided Imagery: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Lisa Millraney

Lisa has 27 years of experience treating speech, language, memory and swallowing disorders. She has a master's degree in speech pathology from Vanderbilt University.

In this lesson, we will learn about guided imagery and how it is implemented. We will discuss the history of this technique and how it is used to help people overcome a large variety of obstacles in their daily lives.

Old Wisdom, New Again: The Mind/Body Connection

For centuries, healers acknowledged a link between a person's mental state and his/her physical condition. Doctors frequently advised patients to visit spas, take 'rest cures', and utilize other means to relax their minds and regain good health.

As modern science discovered physical causes for diseases, such as bacteria, viruses, and toxins, the awareness of the role of the mind in one's physical well-being lessened. By some point, it was denied that any such relationship existed at all. More recently, however, an inclusive approach has taken hold; one in which the 'hard science' of vaccines, antibiotics, and the like works hand in hand with holistic approaches that use the mind to positively influence the body. The acknowledgment of the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and physical health is known as the mind/body connection.

Guided Toward Health

One widely recognized and utilized technique that harnesses the mind/body connection is called guided imagery. Guided imagery uses a multi-sensory approach to evoke a daydream as vividly as the user can muster. One good example is to imagine eating a piece of fruit. You would envision its appearance, imagine inhaling its fragrance, feel the crunch or softness as you bite into it, and savor the juicy taste. The imagination is tapped to create an inner vision, which in turn stimulates positive emotion in the person experiencing it.

The technique is called 'guided' imagery because an external input is used to help keep the person practicing it on task. Such inputs can include the live or recorded voice of a leader or instructor or a written script to read aloud or silently. This guidance can be accompanied by other sounds or music.

The medical field of psychoneuroimmunology has done considerable research on the effects of guided imagery on the nervous and immune systems and its potential to treat a variety of illnesses. As its name implies, the field addresses the mind (psycho), the nerves (neuro), and the immune system (immuno).

Practitioners of guided imagery report an increased ability to develop a relaxed yet focused state. Since stress can depress the body's ability to respond effectively to infections, guided imagery can boost the immune system by decreasing stress levels. It can also be effective for treating other stress-related ailments, such as heart disease.

A World of Possibilities

So how can guided imagery help people in everyday life? Here's a good example.

Nora runs her small bakery and does it well. In fact, she's been asked to speak to the local chamber of commerce at their annual Women in Business luncheon. The problem is that Nora is deathly afraid of public speaking. This is a golden opportunity, though, to make connections that will help her grow her business! She has to find a way to pull it off.

Her friend, Ariel, suggests she try guided imagery. Though she is wary of what she calls the 'woo factor', Nora figures she has nothing to lose. She finds an auditory exercise online specifically geared to public speaking. The narrator walks her through the steps: getting comfortable, progressively relaxing, and then targeting the negative feelings she associates with speaking in front of a group. The exercise then directs her to re-label the tension she is feeling as excitement rather than fear.

Finally, the narrator talks her through imagining the speech itself. Nora envisions the meeting room, experiences the smell and flavor of the tasty luncheon prepared, and listens to the buzz of conversation as the attendees eagerly anticipate her speech. She imagines her body filled with confidence, knowing that she is well prepared and pleased with the speech she has written. She rises from her chair, and with poise, delivers heartfelt remarks that bring rousing applause.

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