Guided imagery (निर्देशित कल्पना) is a mind-body intervention by which a trained practitioner or teacher helps a participant or patient evoke and generate mental images that simulate or recreate the sensory perception of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, movements, and images associated with touches, such as texture, temperature, and pressure. The practitioner or teacher may facilitate this process in person to an individual or a group or you may do it with a virtual group. Alternatively, the participant or patient may follow the guidance provided by a sound recording, video, or audiovisual media comprising spoken instruction that may be accompanied by music or sound.
What is Guided imagery?
Guided imagery is a type of focused relaxation or meditation. Focused relaxation involves concentrating on a specific object, sound, or experience in order to calm your mind. In guided imagery, you intentionally think of a peaceful place or scenario. The goal is to promote a calm state through relaxation and mindfulness. The idea is that your body reacts to your own thoughts. By calming your mind and body, you may be better able to cope with mental, emotional, and physical stress.
Mental imagery in everyday life
There are two fundamental ways by which mental imagery is generated: voluntary and involuntary.
The involuntary and spontaneous generation of mental images is integral to ordinary sensory perception, and cognition, and occurs without volitional intent. Meanwhile, many different aspects of everyday problem solving, scientific reasoning, and creative activity involve the volitional and deliberate generation of mental images.
The generation of involuntary mental imagery is created directly from present sensory stimulation and perceptual information, such as when someone sees an object, creates mental images of it, and maintains this imagery as they look away or close their eyes; or when someone hears a noise and maintains an auditory image of it after the sound ceases or is no longer perceptible.
Voluntary mental imagery may resemble previous sensory perception and experience, recalled from memory; or the images may be entirely novel and the product of fantasy.
Guided imagery Technique
The term guided imagery denotes the technique used in the second (voluntary) instance, by which images are recalled from long-term or short-term memory, created from fantasy, or a combination of both, in response to guidance, instruction, or supervision. Guided imagery is, therefore, the assisted simulation or re-creation of perceptual experience across sensory modalities.
Benefits of Guided Imagery
According to research, guided imagery may be able to positively affect your health and well-being in several different ways. Let’s look more closely at what’s known about the possible benefits:
Reduces anxiety and stress
In a study published in 2014, women with fibromyalgia were divided into two groups. One group practiced guided imagery on a daily basis for a 10-week period, while the other group practiced their usual care routine. At the end of the study, the women who did guided imagery reported a significant decrease in their feelings of stress, fatigue, pain, and depression.
Another study that was done in 2017 compared the stress-relieving benefits of guided imagery with clinical massage. The study, which involved patients in a progressive care unit, found that 30 minutes of guided imagery had similar positive effects to a 15-minute massage.
In the 2017 study mentioned above, the participants who practiced guided imagery also reported that their sleep had improved. Similarly, a 2015 study involving older adults found that a mindfulness practice, which included guided imagery, may have the ability to improve sleep quality. The researchers speculated that mindfulness meditation improves how your body responds to stress, making it easier to sleep.
A study has shown that stress has the ability to worsen your perception of pain.
A 2017 Source found that guided imagery may help manage pain after orthopedic surgery. Similarly, another study done in 2019 found that guided imagery decreased post-surgery pain in children.
Also, in the 2014 study mentioned earlier, participants reported decreased pain, along with other benefits, like less stress and fatigue.
Reduced depression symptoms
According to a 2014 review, depression is often associated with negative mental images. However, the positive images that are created through guided imagery may be able to change this.
In a 2019 study, one week of daily guided imagery was associated with reduced depressive symptoms in people with cancer. The participants also reported reduced pain and less anxiety.
Mental imagery and ill health
Mental imagery, especially visual and auditory imagery, can exacerbate and aggravate a number of mental and physical conditions.
This is because, according to the principles of psychophysiology and psychoneuroimmunology, the way an individual perceives his or her mental and physical condition in turn affects biological processes, including susceptibility to illness, infection, or disease; and that perception is derived significantly from mental imagery. That is to say that in some cases, the severity of an individual’s mental and physical disability, disorder, or illness is partially determined by his or her images, including their content, vividness or intensity, clarity, and frequency with which they are experienced as intrusive and unbidden.
Example conditions aggravated by mental imagery
The aforementioned challenges and difficulties are some of those for which there is evidence to show that an individual can aggravate the symptoms and intensify the pain or distress precipitated by the condition by generating mental imagery that emphasizes its severity.
The following elaborates on the way in which such mental imagery contributes to or aggravates four specific conditions:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder often proceeds from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event involving death, serious injury, or significant threat to others or oneself; and disturbing intrusive images, often described by the patient as ‘flashbacks’, are a common symptom of this condition across demographics of age, gender, and the nature of the precipitating traumatic event.
This unbidden mental imagery is often highly vivid, and provokes memories of the original trauma, accompanied by heightened emotions or feelings and the subjective experience of danger and threat to safety in the present “here and now”.
Individuals with social anxiety have a higher-than-normal tendency to fear situations that involve public attention, such as speaking to an audience or being interviewed, meeting people with whom they are unfamiliar, and attending events of an unpredictable nature.
As with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), vivid mental imagery is a common experience for those with social anxiety and often comprises images that revive and replay a previously experienced stressful, intimidating, or harrowing event that precipitated negative feelings, such as embarrassment, shame, or awkwardness. Thereby, mental imagery contributes to the maintenance and persistence of social anxiety, as it does with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In particular, the mental imagery commonly described by those suffering from social anxiety often comprises what cognitive psychologists describe as an “observer perspective”. This consists of an image of themselves, as though from an observing person’s perspective, in which those suffering from social anxiety perceive themselves negatively, as if from that observing person point of view.
Such imagery is also common among those suffering from other types of anxiety, who often have a depleted ability to generate neutral, positive, or pleasant imagery.
Pleasant and positively affirming imagery
The capacity to evoke pleasant and positively affirming imagery, either voluntarily or involuntarily, maybe a critical requisite for precipitating and sustaining positive moods or feelings and optimism; and this ability is often impaired in those suffering from depression.
Depression consists of emotional distress and cognitive impairment that may include:
- Feelings of hopelessness,
- Pervasive sadness,
- Lack of motivation,
- Social withdrawal,
- Difficulty in concentrating on mental or physical tasks, and
- Disrupted sleep.
Distressing intrusive mental imagery
Whilst depression is frequently associated with negative rumination of verbal thought patterns manifested as unspoken inner speech, ninety percent of depressed patients report distressing intrusive mental imagery that often simulates and recollect previous negative experiences, and which the depressed person often interprets in a way that intensifies feelings of despair and hopelessness.
In addition, people suffering from depression have difficulty evoking prospective imagery indicative of a positive future. The prospective mental imagery experienced by depressed persons when at their most despairing commonly includes vivid and graphic images related to suicide, which some psychologists and psychiatrists refer to as “flash-forwards”.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by manic episodes interspersed with periods of depression; 90% of patients experience a comorbid anxiety disorder at some stage; and there is a significant prevalence of suicide among sufferers. Prospective mental imagery indicative of hyperactivity or mania and hopelessness contributes to the manic and depressive episodes respectively in bipolar disorder.
Principles of Guided Imagery
The therapeutic use of guided imagery, as part of a multimodal treatment plan incorporating other suitable methods, such as guided meditation, receptive music therapy, and relaxation techniques, as well as physical medicine and rehabilitation, and psychotherapy.
It aims to educate the patient in altering their mental imagery, replacing images that compound the pain, recollecting and reconstructing distressing events, intensifying feelings of hopelessness, or reaffirming debilitation, with those that emphasize physical comfort, functional capacity, mental equanimity, and optimism.
Increased mental and physical relaxation
Whether the guided imagery is provided in person by a facilitator, or delivered via media, the verbal instruction consists of words, often pre-scripted, intended to direct the participant’s attention to imagined visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, or olfactory sensations that precipitate a positive psychologic and physiologic response that incorporates increased mental and physical relaxation and decreased mental and physical stress.
Guided imagery is one of the means by which therapists, teachers, or practitioners seek to achieve this outcome, and involves encouraging patients or participants to imagine alternative perspectives, thoughts, and behaviors, mentally rehearsing strategies that they may subsequently actualize, thereby developing increased coping skills and ability.
Stages of Guided Imagery
According to the computational theory of imagery, which is derived from experimental psychology, guided imagery comprises four phases:
- Image generation
- Image maintenance
- Inspection of image
- Image transformation
An image generation
Image generation involves generating mental imagery, either directly from sensory data and perceptual experience, from memory, or from fantasy.
The image maintenance involves the volitional sustaining or maintaining of imagery, without which, a mental image is subject to rapid decay with an average duration of only 250 ms. This is because volitionally created mental images usually fade rapidly once generated in order to avoid disrupting or confusing the process of ordinary sensory perception.
Active maintenance stage of guided imagery
The natural brief duration of mental imagery means that the active maintenance stage of guided imagery, which is necessary for the subsequent stages of inspection and transformation, requires cognitive concentration of attention by the participant. This concentrative attentional ability can be improved with the practice of mental exercises, including those derived from guided meditation and supervised meditative praxis.
Even with such practice, some people can struggle to maintain a mental image “clearly in mind” for more than a few seconds; not only for imagery created through fantasy but also for mental images generated from both long-term memory and short-term memory.
Maintenance of visual and mental images
In addition, while the majority of the research literature has tended to focus on the maintenance of visual mental images, imagery in other sensory modalities also necessitates a volitional maintenance process in order for further inspection or transformation to be possible.
Once generated and maintained, a mental image can be inspected to provide the basis for interpretation, and transformation. For visual imagery, inspection often involves a scanning process, by which the participant directs attention across and around an image, simulating shifts in perceptual perspective.
Inspection processes can be applied both to the imagery created spontaneously and to imagery generated in response to scripted or impromptu verbal descriptions provided by the facilitator.
Finally, with the assistance of verbal instruction from the guided imagery practitioner or teacher, the participant transforms, modifies, or alters the content of generated mental imagery, in such a way as to substitute images that provoke negative feelings, are indicative of suffering, or that reaffirm disability or debilitation for those that elicit positive emotion and are suggestive of resourcefulness, ability to cope, and an increased degree of mental and physical capacity.
This process shares principles with those that inform the clinical psychology techniques of “imagery restructuring” or “imagery re-scripting” as used in cognitive behavioral therapy.
The outcome of image generation, maintenance, inspection, and transformation
Through this technique, a patient is assisted in reducing the tendency to evoke images indicative of the distressing, painful, or debilitative nature of a condition, and learns instead to evoke mental imagery of their identity, body, and circumstances that emphasizes the capacity for autonomy and self-determination, positive proactive activity, and the ability to cope, whilst managing their condition.
As a result, symptoms become less incapacitating, pain is to some degree decreased, and coping skills increase.
Requisite for absorption
In order for the foregoing process to take place effectively, such that all four stages of guided imagery are completed with therapeutic beneficial effect, the patient or participant must be capable of or susceptible to absorption, which is an “openness to absorbing and self-altering experiences”.
This is a further reason why guided meditation or some form of meditative praxis, relaxation techniques, and meditation music or receptive music therapy are often combined with or form an integral part of the operational and practical use of the guided imagery intervention. For, all those techniques can increase the participant’s or patient’s capacity for or susceptibility to absorption, thereby increasing the potential efficacy of guided imagery.
As a mind-body intervention
The NCCIH defines mind-body interventions as those practices that “employ a variety of techniques designed to facilitate the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms”, and include:
- Guided imagery,
- Guided meditation and forms of meditative praxis,
- Hypnosis and hypnotherapy,
- Art therapy,
- Music therapy, and
- Dance therapy.
Promoting overall health and well-being.
All mind–body interventions, including the aforementioned, focus on the interaction between the brain, body, and behavior and are practiced with the intention to use the mind to alter the physical function and promote overall health and well-being.
Increasing capacity to cope with significant problems
There are documented benefits of mind-body interventions derived from scientific research firstly into their use in contributing to the treatment of a range of conditions including:
- Coronary artery disease,
- Chronic pain,
- Ameliorating the symptoms of chemotherapy-induced nausea,
- Localized physical pain in patients with cancer,
- Increasing the perceived capacity to cope with significant problems and challenges, and
- Improving the reported overall quality of life.
Brain and central nervous system
In addition, there is evidence supporting the brain and central nervous system‘s influence on the immune system and the capacity for mind-body interventions to enhance immune function outcomes, including defense against and recovery from infection and disease.
Guided imagery has also demonstrated efficacy in reducing postoperative discomfort as well as chronic pain related to cancer, arthritis, and physical injury.
Evidence and Explanation of Guided Imagery
Evidence and explanations for the effectiveness and limitations of creative visualization come from two discreet sources: cognitive psychology and psychoneuroimmunology.
It plays a significant role in the application of cognitive approaches to psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, rational emotive behavior therapy, schema therapy, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
Model of mental functioning
These therapies derive from or draw substantially upon a model of mental functioning initially established by Aaron T. Beck, a psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst who posited that the subjective way in which people perceive themselves and interpret experiences influences their emotional, behavioral, and physiological reactions to circumstances.
He additionally discovered that by assisting patients in correcting their misperceptions and misinterpretations and aiding them in modifying unhelpful and self-deprecating ways of thinking about themselves and their predicament, his patients had more productive reactions to events, and developed a more positive self-concept, self-image, or perception of themselves.
Visual, auditory, and other mental images
This use of guided imagery is based on the following premise. Everyone participates in both the voluntary and involuntary spontaneous generation of visual, auditory, and other mental images, which is a necessary part of the way in which a person solves problems, recollects the past, predicts and plans the future, and formulates their self-perception, self-image, or the way they ‘view’ and perceive themselves.
Mental processes influence physical and physiological function
Three years later, Jean Achterberg published a book called Imagery in Healing that sought to relate and correlate contemporaneous evidence from the then-emerging scientific study of the way mental processes influence physical and physiological function, with particular emphasis on mental imagery, to the folklore she extrapolated from a set of diverse ancient and geographically indigenous practices previously described as ‘shamanism’ by the historian of religion and professor at the University of Chicago, Mircea Eliade; and a number of anthropologists and ethnologists.
Influences the electrochemistry of the brain
The fundamental hypothesis of psychoneuroimmunology is concise that the way people think and how they feel directly influences the electrochemistry of the brain and central nervous system, which in turn has a significant influence on the immune system and its capacity to defend the body against disease, infection, and ill health. Meanwhile, the immune system affects brain chemistry and its electrical activity, which in turn has a considerable impact on the way we think and feel.
Because of this interplay, a person’s negative thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, such as pessimistic predictions about the future, regretful ruminations upon the past, low self-esteem, and depleted belief in self-determination and a capacity to cope can undermine the efficiency of the immune system, increasing vulnerability to ill health.
That is to say, we feel and think of ourselves as unwell, which contributes to physical conditions of ill health, which in turn cause us to feel and think of ourselves as unwell.
Positively influencing the body
However, the interplay between cognitive and emotional, neurological, and immunological processes also provides for the possibility of positively influencing the body and enhancing physical health by changing the way we think and feel.
For example, people who are able to deconstruct the cognitive distortions that precipitate perpetual pessimism and hopelessness and further develop the capacity to perceive themselves as having a significant degree of self-determination and capacity to cope are more likely to avoid and recover from ill health more quickly than those who remain engaged in negative thoughts and feelings.
Mental and physical well-being
This simplification of a complex interaction of interrelated systems and the capacity of the mind to influence the body does not account for the significant influence that other factors have on mental and physical well-being, including exercise, diet, and social interaction.
There is evidence supporting the brain and central nervous system‘s influence on the immune system and the capacity for mind-body interventions to enhance immune function outcomes, including defense against and recovery from infection and disease.
Tips for Guided Imagery for Beginners
If you’re new to guided imagery, you may want to try it after doing yoga or progressive muscle relaxation.
These tips may be helpful if you’re just getting started with guided imagery:
- You can read a script or listen to an audio recording.
- Choose a quiet area where you’ll be undisturbed.
- Wear comfortable, loose clothing.
- Turn off your phone and other electronics. If you’re listening to a recording on your phone, set it to “Do not disturb.”
- Take several deep breaths. Inhale and exhale deeply and then start the audio recording.
- Continue to inhale and exhale deeply as you follow along with the prompts provided by the audio recording.
- Don’t worry about how well you’re doing. Relax, don’t try too hard, and let the process happen by itself.
- Guided imagery takes practice. Start with 5 minutes a day, then increase the time from there.
- If you have difficulty imagining peaceful settings, look at images or videos on the Internet. Find a soothing scene and pretend you’re there.
- Record how you feel after guided imagery. As time goes on, you’ll be able to track your stress levels to determine if they’ve improved.
How to solve everyday problems with Guided Imagery?
Follow these step-by-step instructions to try guided imagery without an audio recording:
- Sit or lie down in a quiet, comfortable area.
- Close your eyes. Take several deep breaths. Inhale and exhale deeply and keep breathing deeply as you continue this relaxation technique.
- Imagine a peaceful scene like a lush forest, a majestic mountain range, or a quiet, tropical beach. Or, think of a favorite place in nature that makes you feel relaxed.
- Think of the details in the scene. Imagine the sounds, scents, and sensations of being in this peaceful, calming place.
- Envision a path in your scene. Picture yourself walking along the path, imagining the details and sounds as you walk this path.
- Relax in your scene for several minutes. Continue breathing deeply.
- After 15 minutes, count to three. Open your eyes.
In view of the above, I am confident that you have learned the basics of what are Guided Imagery, Meaning, benefits, mental imagery, principles, stages, mind-body intervention, evidence and explanation, tips, and how to solve problems. Now is the right time to use acquired knowledge for solving related problems for free.
Frequently asked questions
Before posting your query, kindly go through the:
|What is the meaning of Guided Imagery? Guided imagery is a type of focused relaxation or meditation. Focused relaxation involves concentrating on a specific object, sound, or experience in order to calm your mind. In guided imagery, you intentionally think of a peaceful place or scenario. The goal is to promote a calm state through relaxation and mindfulness. The idea is that your body reacts to your own thoughts. By calming your mind and body, you may be better able to cope with mental, emotional, and physical stress.
|How does Guided Imagery benefit? According to research, guided imagery may be able to positively affect your health and well-being in several different ways. There’s plenty of scientific evidence that shows that guided imagery may help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, fatigue, pain, and depression. and improves sleep.
|How image is generated while practicing Guided Imagery?
Image generation involves generating mental imagery, either directly from sensory data and perceptual experience, from memory, or from fantasy.