Of all the tools available on the self-help, personal development, and therapy platforms I have studied, guided imagery is one of my longest-standing favourites. Not only is it incredibly simple to carry out and to experience, it is also highly effective and accessible to adults and children alike. In addition, it can be used for most issues, both physical and mental, and utilised in multiple ways.
What is it and how exactly does it work?
Guided imagery involves using your imagination to visualise positive images that help bring about holistic development in the body and mind. A simple form of meditation, it employs the power of mental visualisation to aid healing, by engaging all the senses in a way which initialises recovery and wellbeing from within.
In its most basic form, it is used as a way to sidestep the conscious mind in order to talk to and reprogram the unconscious mind, enabling positive and permanent change on a deep, unconscious level. With regular practice, it can be used to help resolve emotional wounds, raise self-esteem, and steer and support a person towards career advancement through goal-setting and manifestation.
Everyone daydreams—of finding their soulmate, of taking a holiday, of winning the lottery. But instead of idly wishing for something to happen, guided imagery is a goal-oriented process, which points your internal satellite navigation system at the specific destination you desire physically, emotionally and spiritually.
How do I do it?
The process involves focussing your thoughts on your breath and drawing your attention inwards. Then, just as you would read a story to a child or participate in a meditation, you allow the words of the therapist or the recording to quieten your logical mind, guiding your imagination to a place of insight, change and benefit.
A session usually begins with an induction process within which the listener is led into a deep state of relaxation and peace [eg. descending a staircase, exploring a forest, walking along a beach or through a meadow] followed by more specific image suggestions involving guidance, positive suggestion and conflict resolution. Nothing more than your willingness, trust and attention is required. And by putting aside just a little time each week, you can open up the potential to boost your quality of life in a multitude of ways.
Allowing an individual to focus their attention on images associated with the issues they are confronting—for example, creating an image that symbolises a particular health issue they are facing, commencing an imaginary dialogue with it and asking questions such as why it is there, what is its purpose, and the like—can yield surprising results, and the information obtained can often be utilised to help with various conditions and issues. Patients coping with chronic pain can be invited to visit and experience an ‘Inner Sanctuary’, while those facing difficult decisions can be introduced to their wise and caring ‘Inner Advisor’. The process is only really limited by your own imagination, goals and desires.
Can I try it?
For those of you who would like to try it before further research or a professional consultation, here is a simple stress reduction exercise:
- Find a quiet place to relax
- Sit or lie down, and close your eyes
- Focus on your breathing, and breathe in and out slowly and deeply
- When you are ready, picture yourself in a peaceful environment—either imagined or remembered
- Use all of your senses: see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, feel it
- Make it as real as you can
- Stay in this place for as long as you like
- When you feel ready to leave, slowly return to the room, your day, and the responsibilities and demands of the world around you
- Try to practise this daily for at least two weeks
- Record your thoughts and reactions and any possible improvements and/or changes you might have experienced.
If what you have just read has inspired you to expand upon your knowledge, I would recommend reading David Hamilton’s book How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body. But remember, if you would like to work on a serious issue or in a more directed and focussed way, it is always advisable to consult with a licensed practitioner.
Guided Imagery helps to deal with:
- pain management
- mental health across a wide spectrum of conditions and issues
- confidence and self-esteem
- goal-setting and future-planning
Where did it originate?
Guided imagery was employed by both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in their psychotherapy. It has been applied in various forms throughout history—including medicine, prayers, religion, rituals and sports. Belief in the power of imagination, however, is ancient, and shamans in both Eastern and Tibetan Medicine and even ancient Greeks, including Aristotle and Hippocrates, have been known to use it.
Today, it is practised in many major universities, hospitals, wellness centres and therapeutic practices around the world. None other than Oprah Winfrey swears by the power of guided imagery. Other celebrities who have used guided imagery successfully to improve their personal and professional lives include Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, The Beatles, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Will Smith.
This was first published in the January 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.