I first heard about guided imagery in the early 1980s when I saw a film about cancer research pioneer, Dr. O. Carl Simonton. He was taking a chemotherapy patient through a guided imagery exercise. It seemed a little bizarre to me back then, that a patient's thoughts and visions could somehow help her heal, but apparently it did, and this early work was precedent-setting.
Then, sometime in the early 1990's a nurse at a VA Medical Center in West Virginia told me I had to listen to a Belleruth Naparstek guided visualization tape. She was using them with her patients (who were mostly Vietnam Vets) and found that they were very effective. If the same nurse, hadn't already recommended humorist, Loretta LaRoche (who turned out to be AWESOME) I'm not sure I would have gone to all the trouble.
So I called up the phone number that the nurse gave me and ordered a couple of tapes to sample. I was considering whether I would carry them in my catalog. I remember getting them (You couldn't download anything back then) in the mail a week later and sitting down on my bed at home, with a program that was supposed to be helpful for cancer patients: I didn't have cancer, nor did I know anyone with cancer, so I had no personal benefit to be derived from listening to this program.
At the beginning of every imagery program Belleruth warns you that you might be "surprised" by the emotions that come up during your visualization session. As a GUY who tends to keep all his emotions in check, I didn't really feel like there was much to worry about where that was concerned.
And when Belleruth started narrating in her distinctive, monotone voice I really didn't think I was going to experience much of anything at all. But I resisted the urge to pre-judge, (and prematurely hit the eject button) and laid my head back on the pillow, closed my eyes, and just listened.
By the end of the tape I was weeping! Belleruth's imagery was all about healing and her narration encouraged me to imagine loved ones from the past coming to my aid. I didn't think there was anything broken inside me, but apparently there was. The tape struck a deep chord and as Belleruth likes to say, "this means that the imagery is reaching you the way it was designed to." I decided to carry a bunch of her CDs in our catalog and now at our website.
About five years later I was attending The Wellness Conference in Stevens Point Wisconsin and Belleruth was one of the keynote speakers. She shared some very interesting stories about her early days as a therapist at a VA Hospital when most of her colleagues considered the Vets with PTSD to be basically hopeless cases. But she could see how the guided imagery she used with them was working: How they were able to feel completely safe and revisit their traumatic memories in a way that allowed them to achieve resolution and healing.
That's when Belleruth asked the audience if they'd like to try a guided imagery technique for themselves. The next thing you know relaxing music was being piped in through the PA system and Belleruth began to narrate in her special guided imagery voice. Within minutes, the tissues were coming out and quiet sobs filled the air. It was a group healing session that I never would have believed possible, if I hadn't experienced it personally and seen it with my own eyes. Belleruth swears that audiences actually ride a wave of unified reverie and sometimes feel things (and depths of relaxation) they wouldn't feel if they were trying to do it alone.
As Belleruth explains in her book, INIVISIBLE HEROES, "guided imagery is a form of deliberate, directed daydreaming - a purposeful use of the imagination that deploys words and phrases designed to evoke rich, multi-sensory fantasy and memory. The voice tone, pacing and choice of language, usually accompanied by relaxing music, create a deeply immersive mind-state which is ideal for catalyzing desired changes in mind, body, psyche and spirit." In other words, you're going to feel a strong emotional tug, while listening to these programs.
She goes on to say that "imagery has been found to reduce anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and lipid peroxides, speed up healing from cuts, fractures and burns, reduce blood loss and length of hospital stay in surgery patients, beef up short term immune function, reduce pain from arthritis and fibromyalgia, increase comfort during all manner of medical procedures" and the list of benefits goes on and on. By the way, each one of these medical applications for guided imagery is backed up with a peer-reviewed study in her book. Check out "Invisible Heroes" if you want to learn more.
"Imagery is the gift that keeps on giving," Belleruth goes on to say. "It is fast, powerful, costs little or nothing and gets more and more effective with continued use. Its end-user needn't be smart, rich, well-educated, young, strong, or mentally healthy to reap its benefits. The listener can even be bone-tired, disgusted, depressed, disbelieving, listless, resistant, distracted, mentally-disabled, physically unfit, or at death's door and the imagery will still bestow its beneficent blessings."
When she compares it to other similar modalities you begin to see her point. Conscious breathing, meditation and body scan all have their advantages, but they all require supervision, instruction or will power. It really doesn't take much of any of these qualities to sit down with a Belleruth recording and start using your mind to get right to the heart of your specific medical malady. Anybody can do it. And that's the whole point.