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Guided imagery

  • Guided imagery is a process of relaxed-focused concentration. Guided imagery promotes relaxation. By focusing on memories, dreams or fantasies a person can refocus attention away from a stressful situation to a new image. Guided imagery can help people feel good about the way they go through an experience. It can make uncomfortable symptoms less uncomfortable.

    What is involved?

    The clinician has the patient choose an important or meaningful image or idea. During this imaginary journey, usually about 10 to 20 minutes, many senses may be involved. The patient may be guided to see, hear, taste, smell, touch or move while thinking about an imagined activity. At the end of the session the clinician will gently help the patient bring attention back to the room and discuss the patient's experience.

    What has been proven?

    Although it is difficult to find definite scientific research, we know that guided imagery works best when all five senses are used. Guided imagery may help a person relax, feel less frightened or anxious. Guided Imagery may cause changes in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. Using imagery has been shown to support disease remission and increase immune response.

    What does this therapy cost?

    It is not usually billed as a separate charge, but as part of another treatment session. Guided imagery can be used during other forms of therapy, such as chemotherapy, psychotherapy, or relaxation. Ask your nurse or social worker if they are trained in guided imagery.

    How to get started on your own

    1. Find a quiet room where you can get into a comfortable position to relax. Close your eyes.
    2. Do not fold your arms or cross your legs, as you may decrease circulation and cause numbness and tingling.
    3. Breathe in deeply. Try to use abdominal muscles to expand abdomen and fill your lungs. Exhale slowly as though you are whistling. Breathe deeply and exhale slowly three times. This will help you relax.
    4. Picture in your mind something that is peaceful to you or a place that you have enjoyed visiting. This pleasant image should symbolize how you picture relief. For example, think of pain as a large boulder on a part of your body weighing you down and causing you pain. Picture large helium-filled balloons attached to the boulder carrying it away from you, and releasing the pain. If you think of the pain as a thunderstorm with lightning and thunder, that rains on your body, imagine how the pain medicine is like a gentle breeze that blows the rain and thunderclouds away. Instead of rain and thunder, you have sunshine and warmth. The air smells clean and fresh, the rain has watered all the beautiful flowers and the grass is green and lush. There are swans and ducks on a pond. Only a ripple, caused by the ducks’ gentle paddling, disturbs the water’s peaceful state.
    5. Use imagery at least 20 minutes a day. It is best to try imagery before your pain becomes severe, or while you are waiting for your pain medicine to work.
    6. Record the use of relaxation and imagery and how it works in a Pain Management Log.
    7. Imagery does not replace your pain medicine. It works with your pain medicine to help you get better pain relief.

    Special considerations

    Guided imagery is not suggested for patients who are emotionally unstable.

    For further information and services offered through the Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies, please call 617-632-5570.

    By making this information available, neither the Patient Family Education Council not Dana-Farber Institute makes any recommendations, promises, or guarantees the effectiveness of this complementary therapy. For any serious condition please contact your doctor before trying any new therapy. If you do decide to try this modality of therapy, please inform your doctor or nurse so all practitioners can work together to help you in the healing process. 

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