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 Guided Imagery: Personalized Therapy 

Fear and anxiety can be handled in the same way. Cancer patients very frequently fear every discomfort and pain as a possible sign that there is new cancer growing. This technique of thanking the body for its request for help and then sending blood flow, vigilant white cells, and all the body's natural healing resources to the area, is helpful in decreasing these fears, too. It is the opposite of denial. If the pain persists, the patient is encouraged to follow up with a call to their physician or to ask about it in the next office visit. This helps to mitigate against new symptoms being repressed or denied out of fear.

I also encourage patients to employ a sort of "constant instant practice" as we do in instructing people in the acquisition of any self-regulation skill. Every time you come to a stop sign, every time you pick up or hang up the phone, and whenever your mind can think of it, visualize your immune system doing its job, kinesthetically, inside the body. This can be done briefly and in the same way as kinesthetically visualizing yourself serving a tennis ball, or touching your toes, or any other familiar activity. With the mind's eye, see what you want to have happen happening; feel it happening inside your body.

One further device was to elicit the continuing support of Garrett's "unconscious" in combating the tumor when he was not actively doing his visualization. I explained to him on several occasions that just as his blood continued to circulate, his heart to beat, and his digestion to go on without his conscious intervention, so could his immune system continue to battle his tumor, with the while cells continuing to stream to his tumor site even when he wasn't thinking about it and wasn't doing the visualization. During therapy sessions we often did the visualization together as a dialogue. At these times, he gave much free play to his imagery, and we were able to handle unconscious messages as they emerged.

Intention. A Blueprint for Successful Visualization
It is important to see your goal met, the tumor or cancer cells destroyed, and the healing accomplished, every time you do the visualization. This represents your intention and provides a blueprint for your body to follow. Just as a blueprint for a house is real even before the foundation is dug, so this blueprint is a real description of the plan for the body, even though it takes some time for the body to heal. It may be that an image of the present condition will pop back into your mental picture as soon as this visualization is completed. That is perfectly natural; simply see the process through to completion the next time you do the visualization.

Garrett practiced one or another of his visualizations at least once daily. During these visualizations, he was encouraged to continue the sequence until he saw the tumor as completely destroyed. He understood the visualization was like a blueprint. Although the tumor would not be completely destroyed in one session, it established the intent just as an architect's blueprint establishes the intent of the kind of house that is to be built. The blueprint is true, as an intention, even before the foundation is laid. In the same way, he visualized both the process and the final outcome desired each time he did his visualization.

When medical treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation is being given, visualizing it as being powerful and effective is of the utmost importance. Patients often have an ambivalent attitude--almost a love-hate relationship--with their treatment. The unconscious dichotomous attitude is "I must have this to live" and "This is killing me."

The way in which people visualize their treatment, as well as the images, conscious and unconscious, that they have of the treatment, is a major factor in how their bodies will respond to the treatment. Uncovering unconscious attitudes of fear and distrust of the treatment, and dealing with them, is essential. We are always imaging what we are doing and going to do, and visualizing outcomes, so it is not a question of IF we will image but only of what and how, and of making it a part of conscious self-regulation rather than something that is happening willy-nilly, for better or for worse.

The Importance of a Positive Attitude
A positive attitude toward treatment, feeling it as a true helper to the body's well-being, even if temporarily it is very tough, is very important. To patients, I have likened the treatment to inviting a police SWAT team or a national guard crack team into the neighborhood to help put down trouble. They don't come to stay, but their help when needed is indispensable. The treatments are the most powerful agents that medical science has to offer against their particular type of cancer. Although the treatments may be tough on the whole system, the healthy cells are strong and resilient and can resist harm and repair themselves, whereas the cancer cells are weak and confused and cannot survive.

It is very helpful to use a positive visualization of the treatment and its outcome while receiving it. Good suggestions for this include emotional preparation beforehand, perhaps bringing favorite music to the treatment and playing it during the treatment. During the treatment itself, welcome the radiation or the chemicals into the body as a powerful helper. Again, the best visualizations are those that patients develop themselves, but I have found that in general patients need more help with this, probably because the treatment is not an internal process and therefore is not "known" to the unconscious parts of the brain.

Develop Specific Visualizations for SpecificUses
For radiation treatments, a good suggestion is to visualize the rays coming into the body like shining bursts of energy that demolish the weak cancer cells; all the healthy cells can be seen as mirrors, resisting damage and reflecting the radiation directly onto the tumor. For chemotherapy, golden bullets that are directed against the cancer cells, surging into the blood stream, make a good image. The treatment is an important ally to the white cells, and their partnership can be visualized.

It is interesting that the best imagery for the immune system consists of powerful beings of some sort, whether human or animal, that possess conscious intentionality and are responsive to direction. The Simontons, Achterberg and Lawlis, and I have found that inanimate imagery such as giant hoses or vacuum cleaners is not as powerful. However, I have not encountered imagery of the treatment being represented as living beings, in spite of my comparing the treatment to a police SWAT team in a neighborhood, either in the literature or in my patients. One can speculate quite reasonably that this is because the white cells are alive and responsive, and the treatment is not.

Visualizing the chemotherapy as potent and working with it in the body potentiates its action, adding all the biological effects of belief and expectation to its other effects. This also helps decrease the adverse side effects that arise from resistance to the medication. Imagery and visualization of the chemotherapy also increase inner awareness of the drug/body interaction and of the build-up of chemical action in the body.

One patient who was an excellent visualizer illustrates this point. Leonard embarked on a total holistic health program when he was diagnosed with Stage IIB Hodgkins Disease. This approach fit very well with his interests and values. After a trip to M.D. Anderson Hospital for a second opinion, he opted for chemotherapy and psychophysiological therapy and began both treatments at the same time. He began a whole health routine which included yoga and other regular exercise for approximately an hour every morning, high nutrition, and meditation as well.

He was a good visualizer and became very sensitive to receiving messages from his unconscious body/mind. He visualized his immune system and his chemotherapy working together in partnership. He did very well with this combination and very well with his chemotherapy. Then at one point after several months of chemotherapy treatment, he began to feel that his body was saturated with the chemotherapy drugs, and the balance between it and his immune system was not being maintained. He decided to stop chemotherapy for the time being, not because he didn't want its aid in his system, but because he could tell he had more than enough of it in his system.

Leonard continued to visit his oncologist, who wished he would continue the treatments but was willing to be supportive of his decision to stop chemotherapy. Now, a year and one-half later, he is still in remission. Leonard and his oncologist have continued to work together as a team to keep him well, and he has taken responsibility for his own body through having regular check-ups and following his health program faithfully.

At times, with small children and also with older children and adults who are very concrete in their thinking, it is possible to use props on which people can focus their visualization. A beautiful example of this comes from the work of Leslie Salov, an opthalmologist and founder of the Vision and Health Center in Whitewater, Wisconsin. Sara was four and one-half years old when Dr. Salov worked with her. She had five blood angiomas behind her left eyeball, and attempts at conventional medical treatment had proved unsuccessful. It was decided that the best course of action would be to wait until the eye was pushed out of its socket, then to clean out and heal the orbit, and provide her with a glass eye. When Dr. Salov first saw her, Sara's eye was protruding by three-quarters of a centimeter.

After explaining clearly in her terms what was happening to her eye, he asked her to draw it, and she made a picture of her face, the five tumors, and a heart, on which she had inscribed "love, Sara." He next told her that each day her mother would give her a syringe filled with red colored water and a pail, and he instructed her to squeeze the red water out of the syringe while looking at her picture and imaging her tumors getting smaller just as the syringe was doing. When he asked her to explain the process back to him, her description included the phrase that she would see herself squeezing out the liquid and see the syringe getting smaller "just like those bags of blood behind my eyes are going to do." Her use of this phrase made him sure she understood what to do.

The rest of the treatment consisted of nutritional changes and the use of color, as he instructed her parents to surround her with the color blue. In less than two months, her eye was restored to its normal position, and the tumors were gone.

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 About The Author
Patricia Norris PhDPatricia Norris is Director of Clinical Psychoneuroimmunology at Life Sciences Institute of Mind-Body Health, Inc., with 25 years work in psychophysiology psychotherapy......more
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