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Effect of Imagery and Visualization on Melanoma
Imagery is one of the most powerful tools for allowing your mind to affect your body(1). imagery is used by people facing health challenges like melanoma, to help them fight the disease. In fact, research from around the world in the field of Psychoneuroimmunology suggests that the use of imagery and visualization can have a positive effect on health, and the outcome of health challenges.2 You can use it to help focus your mind and your body on winning the fight.
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Research Evidence on Imagery and Visualization
David Bresler, PhD, former director of the UCLA Pain Center, describes imagery as one of the two “higher order” languages of the human nervous system. In other words, just as you use English to communicate to a friend, you can use images as a form of language for your mind to communicate with your body.
For example, imagery is used by professional athletes to help them achieve performance levels they have not achieved before. For example, Michael Scheumacher, often considered the greatest race car driver in the world, uses imagery before each race he participates in. Similarly, imagery is used by people facing health challenges like melanoma, to help them fight the disease. In fact, research from around the world in the field of psychoneuroimmunology suggests that the use of imagery and visualization can have a positive effect on health, and the outcome of health challenges3.You can use it to help focus your mind and your body on winning the fight.
How to Use Imagery and Visualization
A general example of visualization is given below. Specific visualizations for melanoma patients are further discussed in the cancer and stress relief sections.
Sit down and close your eyes, take a few deep breaths Now imagine yourself taking a fresh lemon out of the refrigerator, putting it on a cutting a slice out. Take the lemon slice, bring it up to your mouth and take a bite, sucking the lemon juice into you mouth. Wait. Now, open your eyes. Did you start to salivate? Did you cringe a little at the thought of the sour juice in your mouth? Of course you did. These are your body’s automatic reactions to the image of a lemon. You did not eat a lemon, yet your body reacted automatically as if you did. This is a clear and understandable example of how imagery causes our bodies to react, and it extends to your fight with melanoma too. You can use images and imagery to have your body strengthen its fight against the melanoma.
Imagery has been used to complement the treatment of cancer for a long time. It was first pioneered by radiation oncologist, Dr. Carl Simonton in 1971. Dr. Simonton had a patient who had a case of throat cancer that was “hopeless.” He developed a program for this patient where he would have them spend 5-15 minutes, three times a day, imagining that the radiation therapy they were receiving was bullets of energy that was striking both healthy and cancer cells, but the healthy cells would live and the cancer cells would die. Two months later, the cancer had completely disappeared in the seemingly “hopeless” patient. Since then, Dr. Simonton, and many others like him, teach cancer and melanoma patients how to use this kind of guided imagery to help them fight and win their battles. Another doctor, psychologist Jeanne Achterberg, who did some of the first studies on the effect of imagery I fighting cancer, found that through the use of images, patients could produce a measureable increase in cancer-fighting cells4.
Here are some imagery techniques that are used by melanoma patients to aid in their fight:
- Visualize your cancer-fighting cells as powerful warriors armed with guns, swords, or whatever weapons you want to give them. Think about them scouring your body, searching out, finding, and killing melanoma cells.
- Imagine your future - You can, and should make plans for the future. Remember, you can beat this challenge! Don’t believe for one moment that you have no future. You do, and you can get there. So make plans for it. Make a list of short term goals as well as long term plans and then start thinking about how great it is going to be when you get there. Imagine how it is going to feel when you get to that future.
You can use imagery for stress relief and relaxation as well as these are also beneficial in the treatment of almost any health condition. For example, here is a technique that can work:
- Start out sitting or lying in a comfortable place.
- First focus on your breathing. Breath slowing and deeply in and out. When you breath in, imagine you are breathing in calmness and relaxation. When you breath out, imagine you are breathing out all of your worry and tension. Do this for several minutes.
- Once you are starting to relax, imagine yourself in a place that is particularly peaceful or beautiful or relaxing to you. Imagine this place in all its details – what it looks like, what it smells like, what it feels like, what it sounds like, the colors, the shapes, the things that are there. As you imagine this, allow yourself to feel as if you are there, and how relaxed you would feel there. Do this as long as you want, and when you are ready to stop, slowly bring yourself back to where you are, but allow yourself to feel the relaxation your just experienced in that special place.
1 Alternative Medicine The Definitive Guide, Larry Trivierri Jr. Guided Imagery Chapter, Martin L Rossman, M.D.
2 Everyone'S Guide To Cancer Therapy, 4th Edition, Margaret Tempero (Editor), Sean Mulvihill (Editor). Reference to study done by Dr. David Spiegle of Stanford University, page 61
3 Everyone's Guide To Cancer Therapy, 4th Edition, Margaret Tempero (Editor), Sean Mulvihill (Editor). Reference to study done by Dr. David Spiegle of Stanford University
4 Manifesto for a New Medicine, James S Gordon, 1996, Chapter: Self-care as primary care: The power of the mind.
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