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Using Visualisation And Imagery For Health And Wellbeing

VISUALISATION:  Creative visualization refers to the practice of seeking to affect the outer world via changing thoughts. Creative visualization is the basic technique underlying positive thinking.   The concept originally arose in the US with the 19th century New Thought movement. One of the first to practice the technique of creative visualization was Wallace Wattles (1860–1911), who wrote The Science of Getting Rich.  Creative visualization is the technique of using the imagination to visualize specific behaviours or events occurring in life. Advocates suggest creating a detailed schema of what one desires and then visualizing it over and over again with all of the senses e.g. sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.   For example, in sports a golfer may visualize the “perfect” stroke over and over again to mentally train muscle memory.  Creative visualization is distinguished from normal daydreaming in that creative visualization is done in the first person and the present tense – as if the visualized scene were unfolding all around you; whereas normal daydreaming is done in the third person and the future tense – the “you” of the daydream is a puppet with the real “you” watching from afar.

GUIDED IMAGERY:  Guided imagery is probably best known for its direct effects on physiology.  Through imagery, an individual attempts to stimulate changes in body functions usually considered inaccessible to conscious influence. Guided imagery is different from visualization in that visualization is more representative e.g. a calm country scene whereas imagery tends to be more abstract e.g. seeing tension as crashing waves.  Visualization can be guided by an outside source e.g. a CD or hypnotherapist or created by the individual.  Guided imagery is usually (but not always) guided by an outside source who facilitates the individual’s “birthing” of the image and their working with it. Research has shown Imagery is the most fundamental language we have. Everything you do the mind processes through images. When we recall events from our past or childhood, we think of pictures, images, sounds, pain, etc. It is hardly ever be words. Imagery has been shown to: reduce stress and anxiety, decrease pain, enhance sleep, enhance self-confidence, decrease side effects of medical treatments, decrease blood pressure, decrease blood glucose levels (diabetes), decrease allergy/respiratory symptoms, decrease the severity of headaches and enhance bone and wound healing.

PREPARING A CLIENT FOR IMAGERY/VISUALISATION

The following points will help a client with learning to visualise or image effectively.  A strong and potent image will be more effective and ‘real’ than a weak one when it is presented to the appropriate nerve pathways in the brain. Images can be made more real by:

  • Using all senses in an image. Touch, sound, smell, taste and body position kinaesthesia) should be combined with visual imagination to create highly ‘real’ images.
  • Observing detail of sensations such as the feeling of warm water on bare skin, the texture of clothes, the smell of lavender, the feeling and flow of walking, the sound of birds or the size and shape of a room. These can be observed in detail in reality, and then incorporated into imagery later to make it more vivid.
  • Imagining yourself within your body feeling and sensing all going on around you rather than looking on at yourself from a remote position. If you imagine yourself within yourself, then the image is more connected, realistic and involved than a remote view.

Practice

Any of these exercises will help your client use their imagination and will prepare them for visualisation and imagery work:

  • Imagine you are in your favourite holiday location.  Remember a scene that evokes peace and contentment in your recreate the memory using all your senses; sight, smell, touch, sound and taste.  Open your eyes.
  • Imagine you are standing at the door of your lounge.  Look slowly around the room.  Notice the flooring, the wall covering and the ceiling.  What are the colours?  Imagine walking over the floor with bare feet.  What are the sensations underfoot?  Touch the wall and the floor.  What are the textures?   Imagine that you are walking over to a window or patio door and looking out.  What do you see?  What are the colours?  Are there any flowers or plants in the room?  Go over to them.  Touch them in your mind.  What do they feel like?  What do they look like?  How do they smell?  Walk around the room seeing and touching the furniture and fittings.  Explore the room thoroughly.  Open your eyes.
  • In imagination, experience the taste, temperature, and texture of: onion, lemon, banana, yogurt, almonds or whipped cream.  In imagination, sit down to your favorite dish and eat it. Pay attention to the taste and texture of each mouthful. Feel the knife and the fork in your fingers and the way they manage the food.

And now for the kinesthetic (movement) sense, the sense through which we are aware of the body and its movements.

Imagine that you are:

  • Walking and then running along a beach: feel every movement of your muscles.
  • Driving a car: sense with precision each movement you make in turning the steering wheel, pressing the pedals, and so on.
  • Swimming, playing tennis or basketball, or practicing any other sport you enjoy.
  • Chopping wood with an axe.
  • Imagine that you are smelling: your favorite perfume/aftershave, petrol, a flower, a herb, clean mountain air in a pine forest, burning wood, the ocean, mint or bread coming out of the oven.

GUIDING THE CLIENT USING IMAGERY

Step 1: Take your client through either a Relaxation Script or a PMR Script.

Step 2: Take your client through a Breathing Exercise Script.

Step 3: Ask your client to close their eyes.  You are likely to be either guiding them through managing tension or managing a particular health issue.  You need to first help the client develop their initial image which is likely to be uncomfortable for the client. For the sake of this exercise we will use IBS as a health issue.  Use these key questions in a flexible and organic way with your client:

  • How are you feeling right now?
  • You say you’re feeling tense, where are you feeling this in your body right now?
  • When the IBS is active, where in your body do you feel it?
  • What does it feel like? Does it feel hard or soft for example?
  • If this image had a colour, what might it be?
  • If this image had a gender, what might it be?
  • If this image had a shape, what might it be?
  • If this image had a size, what might it be?
  • If this image had a name, what might it be?
  • What kind of characteristics does the image have?
  • If the image could speak, what might it say?
  • What else might the image want to show or say to you?
  • What else can you tell me about the image?

Using imagination:

  • What colour is the letter G”
  • What does Spring sound like?
  • What does love look like?
  • What does light blue taste like?
  • What texture is your favourite scent/aftershave?
  • What does your self-image look like?

Continuation statements like this help the client to explore further:

  • Tell me more.
  • Go on.
  • Use the descriptive words that your clients use e.g. so you see your tension as a huge immovable rock or so you experience your IBS as a seething cauldron of heat.
  • That’s good. That’s right.
  • Keep breathing.
  • Describe it to me further.

Step 4: Now you will work with your client to help them find a more positive and healing image.  Some questions you could ask for the examples given above:

  • You have an image or your tension as a huge immovable rock. Now, we’re going to work on changing this to a more positive, healing image:
    • What would you like to do with this image?
    • How would you like to feel?
    • What would you like to happen to this rock?
    • How might the rock change?
    • What is happening to the rock now?
    • What does this new healing image feel like? Does it feel hard or soft for example?
    • If this new healing image had a colour, what might it be?
    • If this new healing image had a gender, what might it be?
    • If this new healing image had a shape, what might it be?
    • If this new healing image had a size, what might it be?
    • If this new healing image had a name, what might it be?
    • What new healing kind of characteristics does the image have?
    • If this new healing image could speak, what might it say?
  • You have an image of your IBS as a seething cauldron of heat. Now, we’re going to work on changing this to a more positive, healing image:
    • What would you like to do with this image?
    • How would you like to feel?
    • What would you like to happen to this seething cauldron of heat?
    • How might the seething cauldron of heat change?
    • What is happening to the seething cauldron of heat now?
    • What does this new healing image feel like? Does it feel hard or soft for example?
    • If this new healing image had a colour, what might it be?
    • If this new healing image had a gender, what might it be?
    • If this new healing image had a shape, what might it be?
    • If this new healing image had a size, what might it be?
    • If this new healing image had a name, what might it be?
    • What new healing kind of characteristics does the image have?
    • If this new healing image could speak, what might it say?

Step 5: Get feedback from your client.

Step 6: It is useful if your client works with this image, with any adaptations they choose, between sessions.  Maybe they can journal their experiences.

IMPORTANT NOTES: 

  • As you work with your client, make sure they continue to breathe in a relaxed way.  If they start to hold their breath, remind them gently to keep breathing.
  • If you notice they seem to be in distress, ask them what is happening.  If appropriate stop the image work (using their name will help bring them back to you), ask them to open their eyes and talk through appropriately.
  • Take notes of what the image is like so that you have some guidelines when working with a positive, healing image.
  • If a client can’t answer a questions, reassure them and move on.
  • Initially start using only 5 minutes of imagery a day, perhaps when you have just got into bed, or when you wake up in the morning. The number of minutes can be expanded as time goes on e.g. 15 minutes a day or several times before a major event.
  • Similarly, start using imagery in a quiet, relaxed environment in which there are few distractions. Slowly experiment with using it in increasingly disturbed situations until you are comfortable with using imagery in the most distracting environments such as before a medical procedure.
  • It is important too to use imagery systematically: get into the habit of practicing techniques in your mind before executing in practice, and of using stress management imagery routinely. A habitual routine use of imagery will bring its benefits almost automatically when you are under stress.
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