This article is from the Alternative Medicine Therapies guide.
While there is no scientific evidence indicating that guided imagery by itself helps to heal disease, this technique has been shown to promote relaxation and to improve quality of life. It is especially useful for conditions that are made worse by stress, such as high blood pressure, pain, and headache, as well as stress and anxiety themselves. It may also help certain eating disorders.
In a 1997 study at the University of Miami, researchers found that guided imagery helped elevate mood and decrease stress. The participants rated their moods before and after practicing guided imagery and had their blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol measured. The subjects who used guided imagery reported a significant decrease in depression, fatigue, and total mood disturbance, and measured significant decreases in cortisol, as compared to the control group.
Imagery has been successfully tested as a strategy for relieving nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy in cancer patients, and it has also been found to relieve stress and promote weight gain in those with cancer. Patients using the Simonton method (see "What Is It," above) have successfully used guided imagery as an adjunct therapy to conventional cancer treatments to mobilize their immune systems.
Other studies have shown that guided imagery is particularly helpful for patients preparing for and recovering from surgery. A 1996 study at the Cleveland Clinic showed that patients who used guided imagery prior to colorectal surgery had less anxiety before and less pain after the surgery than did the control group. The members of the guided imagery group used 37% less pain medication, regained their bowel function sooner, and were released from the hospital an average of a day and a half earlier. Blue Shield of California has even begun to distribute guided imagery recordings to its members scheduled for major surgery in the hope that the practice will decrease surgical complications and the pain and anxiety associated with surgery.
Actors, athletes, and public speakers also use guided imagery to prepare for important events. They say that picturing themselves performing at top form helps them do their best in reality.