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What is Guided Imagery?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
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Guided imagery is a way of walking a person through mental visualizations. These visualizations are meant to do a number of things, including relieving stress, changing underlying patterns, discovering answers to nagging questions, and spiritual awakening. Guided imagery has been around for some time, but saw a large revival during the 1960s and 1970s, and is now a cornerstone of various alternative psychological treatment techniques.

One important concept of guided imagery, which may seem to go against the name, is that the type of seeing that takes place is not always visual for everyone. Even though images are often described by the guide, and seen by the recipient, sometimes the sense of seeing is more a sense of feeling or a rising up of various emotional states which convey a similar feel to seeing actual pictures in the mind’s eye.

Guided imagery is facilitated by some sort of a guide. This may be a licensed psychotherapist, a spiritual instructor, a teacher, or simply a friend. Depending on what the recipient is trying to get out of the experience, and what the guide is trying to convey, they may take different approaches. Most often, however, guided imagery begins with the facilitator leading the practitioner through deep breathing exercises with their eyes closed, to still their body and relax their mind.

Suggestions are then made by the facilitator to help bring the practitioner somewhere, and to start the process along. The practitioner may, at this point, then interact verbally with the guide, telling them what they are seeing and feeling. The guide can then react to this, encouraging the practitioner to examine certain elements more closely, and helping them move away from imagery that may be destructive, or towards imagery that may be positive.

Although the images that appear during a guided imagery session may seem superficial, most practitioners of guided imagery believe that nearly everything seen during a session has meaning. Similar interpretive modes are used in much guided imagery as are used in traditional dream analysis. Indeed, guided imagery shares a great deal with dreaming, although the conscious mind is still more engaged, and an outside force is able to directly interact with the subject while they are in the midst of their dream.

Guided imagery may also be used as a route to autosuggestion, or self-hypnosis. In this context, guided imagery is often used for things such as self-healing. By directing the practitioner through a guided series of images that relate to physical well-being, such as manifesting healing energy as golden light and then directing the practitioner to move that golden light to an afflicted area, it is thought that the body is able to direct its own healing energy more specifically. This type of autosuggestive guided imagery may also be used to overcome psychological issues, such as conquering long-term fears, breaking addictive cycles, and improving confidence.

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