People throughout time have used mental imagery for healing in one form or another. Whether through simple prayer, visualization, or elaborate healing rituals, the imagination can play a powerful role in both
physical and emotional healing.
One of the most powerful healing effects we know in medicine is called the "placebo effect." This refers
to the common occurrence of the patient receiving benefit in the form of pain relief, better bodily function,
or even physical healing and recovery, even though the treatment administered had no active ingredient.
Placebo effect is commonly misunderstood to mean "nothing happened", but what it actually means is that
because the patient thinks they are receiving an effective treatment, their body responds by getting better.
When you understand this, you also understand that the placebo effect, mediated through imagination and
belief, is the best evidence there is that the mind can play a powerful role in healing.
Placebo is not a negligible or minor effect. It has been shown in thousands of scientific studies that it is
responsible for between 35% to 55% of the effectiveness of all treatments, including medicine and
surgery. In fact, in the early 1960's, an operation was developed to improve the blood flow to the heart for
people suffering from severe heart disease. It relieved their pain 80% of the time, and even improved the
ability of the heart to pump blood through the body by 70%. A well-designed scientific study was then
performed at Johns Hopkins Medical Center where half the patients matched for age, sex, and severity of
heart disease, had this operation. The other half, without knowing it, had a sham operation with the
identical surgical incision, and no actual surgery to the heart. The results were remarkable! The groups
were identical in both relief of pain and improvement of heart function! This, and many studies like it,
have demonstrated the remarkable powers of "positive expectant faith," as the placebo is sometimes
Why is this important to you? For one thing, if you can be "tricked" into healing, why can't you learn to
flip on that mental switch that allows healing to take place? If one set of thoughts can trigger healing,
why can't another? The answer is, they often can - almost always on the emotional level, and sometimes
on the physical level, as well. For most people, the simplest way to evoke this response is through the
purposeful and skillful use of the imagination.
Imagination is a powerful mental function that allows us to review the past, imagine possible futures, and
do things that we sometimes can't do in the outer world. The imagination is the source of creativity, of
problem-solving, of planning, and of setting our course in this world if we use it correctly. Aristotle
called it "the window to the soul", since it always represents our internal reality. Einstein, late in life,
said "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
Few of us are educated in the use of imagination, though it is one of our most powerful mental functions.
Our educational system is geared toward teaching us logical, linear thinking which are invaluable in life,
but we are generally discouraged from using too much imagination, and are certainly not trained in how
to focus it and use it well. Fortunately, we use imagination instinctively, since it is a normal, natural way
for our brains and nervous systems to store, process, and retrieve information.