Guided imagery is both a technique and a therapeutic tool. It entails the use of the imagination to promote health, success and well-being. The first step in this process is achieving deep relaxation through breathing exercises. Once in a relaxed state, the main exercises involve mental visualization induced by a therapist.
The first exercise in any group-guided imagery session is relaxation. This is accomplished through guided-breathing exercises during which each participant is encouraged to focus on breathing slowly and to release any tension in the muscles, from the toes to the top of the head.
The therapist then works with the group, assisting each person in mentally constructing relaxing scenes that are pleasant. These can be actual experiences from the past or entirely new ones created in the moment. Soft background music may be used. The task of the therapist is to encourage the participants to imagine the pleasure-giving scenes as vividly as possible to maximize the relaxation they produce.
The guide also encourages participants to mentally visualize as many details as possible in each scene and to actively intervene to banish any negative images that might present themselves.
Groups that benefit from relaxation imagery include management groups suffering from stress and rehabilitation groups coping with anxiety.
Group-guided imagery is used in assemblies of hospitalized patients to allay their anxieties regarding certain procedures they may have to undergo, their lack of control over their bodies or their worries in general. Once again, the first step is a relaxation exercise to control muscle tension and fill the mind with a pleasant image.
The therapist then encourages the patients to imagine themselves healthy and without symptoms. They are guided in imagining the energy free-flowing throughout their bodies producing joyful moods and physical well-being.
Further, they are encouraged by their guide to imagine their bodies mending and healing themselves, such as fighting cancer cells and disease or soothing and eliminating wounds or stabilizing chemical imbalances.
Pain Control Imagery
Other group-guided imagery exercises focus on pain management and control. The therapist asks the group to create in their imaginations an image of their pain and then to transform that image into something weaker, less unpleasant and less frightening.
Another exercise is to imagine the pain completely disappearing from the body. Sometimes the guide encourages the pain sufferers to imagine they have complete control over their pain and that they can turn it off at will as they would a light switch.
Guided imagery is often used in sport groups, musical groups, with actors and with children. Participants are encouraged to imagine their own success, whether it be physical or creative, and to dwell on these images with pleasure. It is thought the brain cannot distinguish whether the success actually exists or not, which is why these mental rehearsals have a positive effect on goal attainment.
With groups of children, guided imagery is used to enable each child to live out a role in the imagination. This is mental rehearsal for real life. The guide encourages the children to sit still and concentrate on their five senses and only act out inside themselves a specific role or story given by the therapist. The teacher or guide takes the children into their imaginations through images, smells, tastes and touch.
Afterward, the last exercise is body stretching to restore normal circulation throughout the body.