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Salem Hypnosis Article: History of Guided Imagery Therapy Part One

Salem Hypnosis Article at Empowered Within – History of Guided Imagery Part One

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Alternative Therapies (Health and Medicine)

The belief that the power of imagination can help people heal has ancient roots. Traditional folk healers known as shamans used guided imagery to treat ailments. In Eastern medicine, envisioning well-being has always been an important part of the therapeutic process. In Tibetan medicine in particular, creating a mental image of the healing god would improve the patient’s chances for recovery. The ancient Greeks, including Aristotle and Hippocrates (“father of modern medicine”) also had their patients use forms of imagery to help them heal.

It was not until the 1960s, however, that psychologists exploring the emerging field of biofeedback first began to appreciate the powers of the mind on the physical body. Through biofeedback, they could teach patients to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, or open lungs stricken with asthma. Then, in the 1970s, O. Carl Simonton, M.D., chief of Radiation Therapy at Travis Air Force base in Fairfield, California, and psychotherapist Stephanie Matthews-Simonson, devised a program–today known as the Simonton method–that utilized guided imagery to help his cancer patients. The patients pictured their white blood cells attacking their cancer cells (sometimes in scenes that resembled the popular video game “Pac-Man”). Simonton found that the more vivid the images his patients used (for example, ravenous sharks attacking feeble little fish), the better the process worked.

Since then, a good deal of research into mind-body connections has appeared in mainstream medical literature. And while many conventional physicians remain skeptical that the mind has an actual physical effect on the reversal of an illness, guided imagery (often conducted by psychiatrists or psychologists) is now used in many medical inpatient and outpatient programs throughout the world. Furthermore, many holistically oriented psychologists and other counselors routinely employ guided imagery for stress reduction, smoking cessation, weight reduction, immune stimulation, and the relief of both physical and emotional illness.


 

How Does It Work?

Practitioners say that guided imagery works because, in terms of brain activity, picturing something and actually experiencing it are equivalent. Brain scans have verified that this is the case. Stimulating the brain with imagery can have a direct effect on the nervous and endocrine systems and can ultimately affect the immune system as well. If you picture yourself luxuriating at the beach on a tropical island, your muscles will actually relax and your skin will feel the warmth of the sun’s rays. Likewise, if you imagine yourself recuperating quickly and effortlessly from gallbladder surgery, you are more likely to heal faster and with less pain.

The brain’s visual cortex, which processes images, has a powerful connection with the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary activities such as pulse, breathing, and physical responses to stress. Soothing, uplifting images can actually slow your pulse and breathing and lower your blood pressure, as well as help trigger the release of hormones such as endorphins, which make you feel good and nurture your body’s restorative powers.


 

History of Guided Imagery

Mental images, formed long before we learn to understand and use words, lie at the core of who we think we are, what we believe the world is like, what we feel we deserve, and how motivated we are to take care of ourselves. They strongly influence our beliefs and attitudes about how we fall ill, what will help us get better, and whether or not any medical and/or psychological interventions will be effective.

Imagery also has powerful physiological consequences that are directly related to the healing systems of the body. Research on the omnipresent placebo effect, the standard to which we compare all other modalities (and find relatively few more powerful), has provided some of the strongest evidence for the power of the imagination in healing. It is well documented that from 30-55% of all patients given inactive placebos respond as well or better than those given active treatments or agents.

If people can derive not only symptomatic relief, but actual physiologic healing in response to treatments that primarily work through beliefs and attitudes, then learning to better mobilize this phenomenon in a purposeful, conscious way becomes an important, if not critical, area of investigation for modern medicine. While all responses to imagery are not placebo responses, imagery offers an entrance into this important arena.

In addition to its potential for stimulating physical healing, imagery provides a powerful window of insight into unconscious processes, rapidly and graphically revealing dynamics that may support either health or illness. To the clinician, this window is invaluable for quickly identifying opportunities for change, as well as resistance to change, and ways to work effectively with both.

“Guided imagery” is a term variously used to describe a range of techniques from simple visualization and direct imagery-based suggestion through metaphor and storytelling. Guided imagery is used to help teach psychophysiologic relaxation, to relieve symptoms, to stimulate healing responses in the body, and to help people tolerate procedures and treatments more easily.

Imagery can also be used “interactively” to evoke imagery dialogue where the unconscious is invited to tell its own story. This gives patients a way to draw on their own inner resources to support healing, to make appropriate adaptations to changes in health, and to find creative solutions to challenges that they previously thought were insoluble. This Interactive Guided Imagery approach is particularly useful in the current era of medical economics, where cost-effective mind/body medicine, improved medical self-care, and briefer yet more empowering approaches to health care are valued by patients, providers, and insurers alike.


 

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History and Development

All healing rituals involve imagery, either overtly or covertly. In this sense, imagery can be considered the oldest and most ubiquitous form of medicine. The healing rituals of various cultures all have a certain level of efficacy or they wouldn’t persist, and while we may attribute these therapeutic benefits to “placebo effects,” they are real and measurable effects with important implications for our understanding of the healing process.

Shamanic healers in many cultures enter a trance state during which they are thought to journey to the spirit realm to have direct discourse with the spirits or gods that affect health or illness. Some Native American medicine men painstakingly create a detailed and ornate sand picture by slowly placing individual grains of various colored sands into an image that depicts how the illness came about and how it can be healed. While other factors may be involved, these are at minimum two powerful uses of guided imagery.

In India, the ancient Hindu sages believed that images were one of the ways that the gods sent messages to people, and they developed a wide range of specific imagery techniques as an integral part of yogic practice.

Traditional Chinese medicine also employed imagery and visualization as essential elements of mind/body healing practices such as Qi Gong and its derivatives. Tibetan culture has perhaps developed imagery as a healing art more profoundly than any others. Focused concentration on specific colors, sounds, deities, and images are prescribed for specific conditions and are felt to have great healing power. Receptive meditations, such as appealing to the Medicine Buddha for guidance, may reflect an archetype also revealed in the Aesculapius ritual of dream incubation or more modern techniques of imagery dialogue with a caring wisdom figure (“Inner Adviser” or “Inner Healer”).

Healing rituals, whether considered to be prayer or guided imagery, continued to be an essential part of medicine and healing during the birth of Western culture. Esoteric teachings of Judaism encouraged the practice of kavanah, a state of peaceful concentrated awareness, and utilized this state to focus on images within the model of healing.

In ancient Greece, the dominant healing models at the time of Hippocrates considered the imagination to be an organ at the literal heart of healing. In this model, the senses apprehended reality, subtracted its matter, and took the remainder into the psyche (soul) where it formed images. Some of these images stimulated emotional reactions, which in turn moved the four “humors” that were thought to mediate balance and health in the body. If you substitute the term “peptide molecules” for “humors,” this model is quite current in light of what we know from psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) research.

Galen, the dominant influence on Western medicine for a thousand years, considered the imagination to be a critical element of both pathogenesis and healing, as did Paracelsus, an eclectic physician best known as the father of chemical medicine in the fifteenth century.

Medicine and religion were closely intertwined in the west until Rene Descartes declared the body to be separate and independent of the mind and spirit. This theoretical separation released physicians and scientific thinkers from the limitations imposed by religious dogma on exploration of the natural world, and paved the way for tremendous advances in our scientific understanding of physiology and psychopathology. In the explosion of scientific and medical discovery that followed the Cartesian split, the role of the mind received little attention until the 18th century when it dramatically resurfaced in the person of Anton Mesmer.

Mesmer, an Austrian stage performer, literally entranced Parisian culture with his dramatic healing rituals. Dressed in flowing purple robes, Mesmer would pass his hands around an ailing person’s body, affecting its “animal magnetism” until the subject would faint or fall into a trace-like state. Numerous “healings,” often of hysterical ailments (but sometimes of well-documented physical conditions), led to great notoriety and fame. Mesmer’s cures were investigated by the prestigious French Academy of Sciences, which declared the beneficial effects to be real but attributed their source to be the “influence of the inspired imagination.”


 

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James Esdaille, a British surgeon practicing in India, performed major operations utilizing Mesmer’s techniques as the sole anesthetic. His contemporary, James Braid, coined the term “hypnosis” to describe a relaxed state in which people seemed to be hyper suggestible and reported it to be remarkably effective in relieving pain and healing difficult illnesses. At about the same time, Jean Charcot, a French neurologist and teacher of Freud, utilized this approach as a treatment for conversion symptoms including blindness and paralysis. This “psychological cure” became the basis for Freud’s fascination with the “unconscious mind” and led to the development of his well-known theories.

Carl Jung, the eminent Swiss psychiatrist, believed that imagery was as close to the unconscious as one could get, or that it may even be the unconscious mind directly revealing itself. Jung employed a method he called “active imagination” as a means of gaining insight into his client’s unconscious process. He would invite his patients to relax and focus their attention on their symptoms and describe the images that came to mind. He reported that “at first, the client tends to watch the images with some fascination, as if at the theater, but sooner or later it dawns on them that they are being addressed by something intelligent.”

Roberto Assagioli, an Italian psychiatrist and contemporary of Freud and Jung’s, developed Psycho-synthesis as a spiritual psychology in response to what he felt was the unbalanced approach of psychoanalysis. Assagioli, like Jung, believed that the unconscious not only held repressed drives and unacceptable urges (as Freud postulated), but that it was also the source of creativity, altruism, empathy, inspiration, and many other higher human values. Assagioli utilized imagery and meditation extensively, adapting and developing techniques gleaned from the works of the metaphysical healer Alice Bailey, among others.

Other European pioneers of Western psychology developed new psycho therapeutic and medical applications based on imagery. These approaches include the Guided Affective Imagery of Hanscarl Leuner, Robert Desoille’s Directed Daydream, and Wolfgang Luthe’s Autogenic Training.

Imagery again came to light in medicine in the late 1960s with the startling reports by radiation oncologist O. Carl Simonton and his then wife, psychologist Stephanie Simonton, of unexpected longevity in cancer patients following the use of imagery and visualization to stimulate immune response. The Simontons taught their patients simple relaxation and imagery techniques they learned from Silva Mind Control, a commercial course utilizing mental imagery for enhancing performance, relaxation, memory, and healing.


 

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Although the Simontons’ work stirred a great controversy in medicine, very little clinical research was done in this area until the late 1980s. The development of psycho-neuroimmunology as a field of study encouraged researchers to cross disciplinary boundaries to study the effects of the mind on physiology and healing in earnest. While this research is just beginning, many studies have already validated the Simontons’ early hypothesis that people can stimulate their immune response through imagery. Several studies also indicate that psychosocial interventions may extend the life of cancer patients. Additional research still needs to be done to clarify the roles of imagery in this regard.

Psychologists Jeanne Achterberg and Frank Lawlis, working with the Simontons, helped to formulate some of the earliest research in this area, developing the Image CA, a rating scale of imagery drawings by cancer patients. They found that certain aspects of the imagery work may predict clinical outcome and have developed similar scales and imagery interventions in the areas of chronic pain, diabetes, and spinal injuries as well as cancer.

Another seminal influence in the medical uses of imagery was osteopathic physician/author, Irving Oyle. Dr. Oyle, a masterful physician, explored the profusion of new approaches to healing that blossomed in the early 70s with a clinician’s eye for effectiveness. Oyle derived the technique of dialoguing with an imaginary figure of wisdom and compassion or “Inner Advisor” from his readings of Jung and his personal experiences with Silva Mind Control.

Two other pioneers in the field of guided imagery, Martin Rossman, MD, and David Bresler, PhD, have developed these and other concepts throughout their combined 60 years of clinical experience. Dr. Bresler and Dr. Rossman founded the Academy for Guided Imagery where clinicians are trained to use interactive guided imagery. Here, health care providers are trained to help clients access their own imagery and direct it toward healing.

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