Using guided imagery to help patients cope

Jan 4, 2015

The mind-body connection is increasingly being explored by doctors, scientists and others. Research shows that guided imagery can help turn around the way your mind works, thus the way your body behaves. 

This week on “Take Care,” Jane Pernotto Ehrman speaks about how guided imagery works. Ehrman is lead behavioral health specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Lifestyle Medicine in the Wellness Institute, and has had personal experience with guided imagery working for her.

Ehrman was diagnosed with breast cancer 26 years ago and was told she only had a 35 percent chance of living five years. The chemotherapy made her extremely sick, and she thought to herself that she would probably feel better if she were dead.

A therapist asked Ehrman if she would like to try guided imagery to help with the side effects of the treatments and when she did, the changes she began to notice were big.

“I was able to go from 72 hours of the nausea, the vomiting, the gastritis, all those things, to being able to go to lunch with my sister after a morning of the IV treatment and being able to eat dinner with my family and be with them and function,” Ehrman said.

Her family and even other cancer patients noticed how much better she tolerated her chemotherapy treatments.

That experience led Ehrman to became passionate about how guided imagery can help people face adversity in what she says are positive, powerful ways.

Guided imagery uses the mind/body connection to help patients cope.

“The mind/body are highly integrated and what the mind perceives the body responds in like,” Ehrman said. “It’s purposeful daydreaming. And it’s using all of your senses to some degree. Many call it visualization,” Ehrman said.

For people who have never practiced guided imagery, Ehrmas says it’s best to have a facilitator guides you through the process of letting go of the outer world, and moving inward into your imagination.

When you imagine being in a peaceful place, the neuropeptides and all other kinds of brain cells scattered throughout your organ systems, in milliseconds give the message of peace and calm and you begin to feel more peaceful and calm.

The place you imagine could be one that’s familiar to you, one you’ve read about or one you made up. But when you go there mentally your body responds to the positivity.

Researchers found that patients who do guided imagery can have concrete physical benefits. For example, using guided imagery before surgery allows some patients to need less anesthesia.

Ehrman said these patients also responded better as they were awakening, managed pain better, healed faster, had fewer complications like bleeding and infections and were able to leave the hospital earlier.

“It’s a profound modality because it’s something that’s so easy and natural for us to use,” Ehrman said.

Guided imagery has also shown to be helpful to women in early stages of pregnancy that have severe nausea and vomiting.

Adults that are skeptical about the process may be more resistant, but that’s why Ehrman recommends working with a professional.

“Let yourself be guided because if you’ve not done this yourself before, too often people say negative things, like I don’t want to feel sick,” Ehrman said.

There are also MP3s available that can walk you through guided imagery.