Imagery therapy or guided imagery therapy entails the use of visualization in a therapeutic setting, where clients are exposed to ‘guided images’ to elicit positive changes in their thought patterns and behaviors. Typically used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, where clients learn to challenge their irrational thoughts and beliefs, imagery therapy focuses on changing the unhelpful mental images that may accompany these thoughts. These mental images refer to the sounds, smells and other sensory information that are present whenever we experience an undesirable thought or feeling. Challenging these unhelpful images is a key pillar of imagery therapy, so that clients may learn to replace them with new, adaptive images to improve coping skills and reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress. Imagery therapy has been effective in the treatment of a varied range of emotional and physical disorders.
In guided imagery therapy, the therapist will directly aid the client in guiding their mental images. This allows clients to concentrate on specific problems, symptoms or faulty beliefs they possess, with the imagery aiding in tackling any obstacles in the ability to make lasting and desired changes. This involves entering a relaxed state so as to access the subconscious mind, allowing an individual to move past the conscious brain’s habit of censoring everything. The process entails a significant amount of visualization and imagination, working on the special connection between the nervous system and visual cortex. The impact of this connection on one’s emotional and physical state may increase the possibility of the desired changes taking place. Imagery can also boost the body’s own healing capabilities and restore its balance, important aspects of optimal functioning
Some of the imagery techniques used by therapists to help clients learn new attitudes and behaviours, invoking desired changes, include:
• Positive imagery, involving the use of a pleasant image (a peaceful nature scene) that brings about relaxation and groundedness. This is useful in switching from an anxious state a calm one.
• Negative/aversive imagery, involving the use of an unpleasant mental image as a consequence of a behaviour one is trying to change and typically used in the treatment of addictions.
• Step-up technique, involving the imagination an anxiety inducing situation and feeling the fear associated with it, then picturing oneself coping with it effectively.
• Associated imagery, which is used to pinpoint the roots behind negative emotions. Focusing on the negative emotions and the subsequent negative images they elicit allows for the study of said images and a better understanding of their origin and meaning.
During guided imagery therapy, your therapist will make sure you feel comfortable and relaxed, guiding you through the visualization process and encouraging you to involve all of your senses as you imagine the scene. The main thing to note is that the client is in control of the imagery, which can be empowering and allows them to feel secure should they feel they need to stop. Imagery therapy has shown to be helpful in a number of ways, including, but not limited to: eliminating bad habits, increasing self-confidence, managing pain, achieving goals, learning to self-soothe, preparing oneself for a challenging situation, letting go of regret and managing negative emotions.