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Guided imagery is a learned technique that teaches patients to guide their minds to more relaxed and focused states. This can directly affect brain and physical functioning as imagining relaxed states (such as sitting calmly on a beach) can have the same physiological effects -including lowered blood pressure and heart rate- as actual relaxation (i.e. actually sitting calmly on a beach.)
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Effect of Guided Imagery on Depression
Guided by an instructor, recorded tapes, or even written literature, patients can mentally walk themselves into a calm, relaxed and focused states. Imagery practices can directly affect the autonomic nervous system and physical functioning. Creating these mentally calm states can decrease factors linked with depression such as stress, pain and anxiety.**Guided Imagery can also affect the immune system.2 The brain centers used for imagery are connected with the hypothalamus, which is responsible in part for controlling the immune system. Physical illnesses are highly correlated with depression. Guided Imagery can bolster against these illnesses by stimulating the immune system.
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Research Evidence on Guided Imagery
One study exposed 323 medical patients to Interactive Guided Imagery (IGI) in the form of mental images used to cultivate healing intentions for the patients. All patients reported understanding the nature of their health problem through the use of IGI and more than help reported moderate to definite benefits in reducing their symptoms of anxiety and depression.1
There are only a few contraindications to Guided Imagery: organic brain syndrome, psychosis, and pre-psychosis (University of Michigan, n.d.).
Guided Imagery can be used to reduce not only depression, but anxiety, stress and other diseases for which these are symptoms.
There are no reported side effects to using guided imagery and thus can be considered safe to be used in conjunction with other depression therapies.
1 Interactive Guided Imagery Therapy with Medical Patients: Predictors of Health Outcomes (2005). The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 11(1) 69-83.
2 Gordon, J.S (2008). Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression.The Penguin Press.
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