What Kinds of Illnesses Can Be Treated With Imagery?
While preliminary studies have demonstrated that imagery can be an effective part of treatment in a wide variety of illnesses, I am reluctant to offer a list of "diseases that can be treated with imagery." Imagery can be helpful in so many ways that it is more accurate to think of it as a way of treating people than a way of treating illnesses.
Imagery can help you whether you have simple tension headaches or a life-threatening disease. Through imagery, you can learn to relax and be more comfortable in any situation, whether you are ill or well. You may be able to reduce, modify, or eliminate pain. You can use imagery to help you see if your lifestyle habits have contributed to your illness and to see what changes you can make to support your recovery. Imagery can help you tap inner strengths and find hope, courage, patience, perseverance, love, and other qualities that can help you cope with, transcend, or recover from almost any illness.
There are, of course, certain symptoms and illnesses that seem to be more readily responsive to imagery than others. Conditions that are caused by or aggravated by stress often respond very well to imagery techniques. These include such common problems as headaches, neck pain, back pain, "nervous stomach," spastic colon, allergies, palpitations, dizziness, fatigue, and anxiety. Other major health problems including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and neurological illnesses are often complicated by or themselves cause stress, anxiety, and depression. The emotional aspects of any illness can often be helped through imagery, and relieving the emotional distress may in turn encourage physical healing.
I must repeat that good medical care for the serious problems mentioned above is essential and perfectly compatible with imagery. If you choose to have therapeutic treatments of any kind, acknowledge them as your allies in healing and include them in your imagery. If you are taking an antibiotic or chemotherapy, imagine the medicines coursing through your tissues, finding and eliminating the bacteria or tumor cells you are fighting. If you have surgery, imagine the operation going smoothly and successfully, and your recovery being rapid and complete. There is good evidence that this type of pre-operative preparation reduces recovery time and complications from surgery.(3)
Now that we've considered what imagery can do and how it might work, let's begin your personal exploration of the imagery process.
1) A very good review of this literature is found in "Imagery, physiology, and psychosomatic illness," Sheikh, A., and Kunzendorf, R. G. (1984). In International Review of Mental Imagery, Vol. 1, ed. Sheikh, A. New York: Human Sciences Press.
2) Rosen, G., Kleinman, A., and Katon, W. (1982), "Somatization in family practice: a biopsychosocial approach." Journal of Family Practice, 14:3, 493-502.
Stoeckle,J. D., Zola, I. K., and Davidson, G. E. (1964), "The quantity and significance of psychological distress in medical patients." Journal of Chronic Disease, 17:959.
3) An excellent review of psychological factors in surgical outcome is found in "Behavioral Anesthesia," by Henry L. Bennett, Ph.D., in Aduances, 2:4, Fall, 1985.