Guided Imagery for Anxiety

October 8, 2007

There are many uses for guided imagery to address a variety of problems that we suffer from. I plan to address some of these in future posts and today the focus is on using guided imagery to help with anxiety. Anxiety is an all too common problem in our society that can be experienced as fear of performance, avoidance of social interaction, can limit the perceived choices available to a person, and can manifest in mild or intensive forms. Anxiety can be treated with psychotherapy and/or medication.

In an earlier post (Imagination in Counseling and Psychotherapy,11/13/06), I mentioned how using interaction with imagery in therapy, in the form of guided imagery, supports the learning and continued use of self-reflection and insight. Using imagery in this context also helps a person to access the unconscious in a safe and structured way so that information that can lead to healing and growing can be accessible.


Learning to do guided imagery is not difficult- it can be learned quickly and easily from a book, from personal or group instruction, or from recordings. I have recently listened to a CD, “Anxiety Relief” by Martin L. Rossman MD, that offers instruction on the use of Interactive Guided Imagery[SM] (IGI[SM]), with a specific focus on anxiety.

I am a certified practitioner of IGI(SM) and trained at the Academy for Guided Imagery, a school that Dr. Rossman founded and directs, so I have a thorough understanding of this process. I am going to give you some links during the course of this post to help you to purchase this CD, or others, from Dr. Rossman’s web site, The Healing Mind. I intend to give you some information that I think you will find useful to decide if this is a product from which you will benefit- and I will benefit as well since I will make a small profit from each sale made from links on this blog to The Healing Mind.

The disk consist of a short introduction; an explanation of how the power of your mind can relieve anxiety; and three exercises, each a bit over twenty minutes in length. The first exercise is Deep Mind/Body Relaxation. Here you will hear Dr. Rossman’s soothing voice and calming demeanor guiding you into deeper and deeper relaxation, scanning your whole body and easing your mind. The second exercise is Dialogue with Your Inner (Wisdom) Advisor. This is one of the fundamentals of IGI(SM). The Inner Advisor is described as the embodiment of love, wisdom, and caring, and knows you very well since it is a manifestation of your unconscious. This Inner Advisor can be a guide to know how to grow and heal in ways that no one outside of yourself could possibly know. The Inner Advisor can be a guide to address your anxiety- where to find it in yourself, how to transform it when you find it, and how to bring this into the world of your daily life. The third exercise is Evocative Imagery. This is a form of imagery that can help you to address anxiety through asking for help with building strengths that you may feel you lack.

Learning how to relax is essential for reducing anxiety and Dr. Rossman is quite skilled in helping you to do so with a variety of suggestions as he guides you to become increasingly aware of your body, to shift your attention from the outer world to the inner world, and to relax more and more deeply. He will guide you to experience a peaceful, safe place in your imagination to further deepen the sense of relaxation and peace. He will help you find your inner guides to help you view issues and solve problems that may be causing your anxiety. You will feel in good, capable, even masterful hands as you journey along with Rossman’s guiding as he takes you from deep relaxation, to a safe and comfortable place in your imagination, to meet your inner advisor, and to learn what there is to learn about your anxiety as a way of addressing and reducing its effect, and to develop skills to identify and strengthen qualities to deal with stress and anxiety.

Click here to go to Dr. Rossman’s web site, The Healing Mind, to learn more about this disk or purchase one for yourself. I’ll be reviewing more of Dr. Rossman’s guided imagery disks before too long- so check back soon.

I am happy to say that I have recently affiliated with Dr. Martin L. Rossman and his web site, The Healing Mind, where he has made available much solid and practical advice on the use of guided imagery in support of healing. Available there are suggestions for specific uses for guided imagery to address a variety of maladies and a number of products which I feel my readers will find useful.

From The Healing Mind web site: Forty years of modern medical research shows that mind/body medicine can help people with back and neck pain, headaches, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure and a host of other common chronic conditions. Relaxation and guided imagery (RGI) can also reduce complications from surgery or other medical treatments and is used in leading hospitals and clinics around the world.

As a trained practitioner of Interactive Guided Imagery (SM), I can testify unequivocally that this method works with many conditions. I am gratified to have helped people with physical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual problems to improve and even eliminate their symptoms through the use of guided imagery so I am pleased to have now affiliated with him to make this method more widely available.

Dr. Rossman has available a number of products that can aid the new or experienced user of guided imagery with problems such as stress and anxiety, pain relief, cancer and coping with cancer treatment, addictions, and women’s health issues. There are disks available with guided imagery sessions to address a variety of issues and books to delve more deeply into what is guided imagery how it works. In later posts, I’ll review some of these products one by one to help you understand what you’ll find.

Click here to go to The Healing Mind web site where you can find a free “stress buster” audio download and a free video of Dr. Rossman explaining guided imagery.

Want an inside view of a guided imagery session? Want to read what some of the main practitioners and researchers have to say about it? There is a good description of one person’s experience with guided imagery posted at my professional web site,
This is a reprint of an article written by Marian Sandmaier that was published in January, 2006, in O, The Oprah Magazine, now renamed, "Imagine That". The person who guides her on this imagery journey is yours truly. The article is very well written and has a very good and reasonably comprehensive survey of several prominent people in the field. Along with finding out about a variety of ways and settings that guided imagery is currently being used, you can read a detailed account of the authors imagery session.

Want to try doing some imagery yourself? This is really not very difficult. In Dr. Martin L. Rossman’s book, Healing through Imagery (available through the Amazon links on the left of this post) there are described some imagery exercises anyone can do.  Here is another one using art that you can try on your own:

Make a scribble on an approximately 8.5 x 11 piece of paper using whatever is handy or some drawing medium that you prefer; pencil, pen, crayons, chalk, etc. Don’t overdo the scribble, just enough to be suggestive by the lines, spaces, and shapes that are formed. Put down your drawing material and hold up the page on which you have just drawn. Turn the page around, looking at the scribble from all angles, looking for a shape that emerges that was unintended but can be readily seen now that you have found it. If you like, shade in or outline this shape to make it easier to see. This object that has emerged from the drawing is a product of the interaction between your conscious, your unconscious and the art medium.

To engage in the imagery process from this point act as though the image that has emerged can communicate with you if you initiate the interaction. Greet the image and thank it for coming. Ask it what it has come to tell you or show you that you might need to know. Be open to the possibility that the image may communicate with you through language, through action, or through just knowing. The tricky part is merely to let the image be your guide, rather than you telling it what to do, or having expectations for it to do something. The way anything new can happen here is by letting the image guide you to whatever knowing is possible. Ask questions about you want of this image and about anything that seems unusual or draws your attention. Remember to thank the image before you end the process.

You may need some practice to sustain your interaction. You may need to suspend disbelief, even if just for a little while in order to engage the imagery. You may be surprised at the depth and clarity of the interaction.

Post your comments here and let the readers and me know how it went.

The use of the imagination in the form of guided imagery or creative work, especially art and poetry, has the effect of deepening and accelerating the process of counseling and psychotherapy. By deepening the process I mean that using interaction with imagery in therapy supports the learning and continued use of self-reflection and insight. Using imagery in this context also helps a person to access the unconscious and minimize the limiting effect of the ego defenses to conserve the status quo.
By acceleration of the process I mean that the learning, growing, and/or healing that may need to take place seem to happen more quickly than with a conventional talking therapy. I feel that part of the reason for this is that the content, pace, and style all can largely be determined by the requirements and style of the clients. In this way, the course of the sessions goes along in high accordance with the needs of the client to address, understand, and resolve conflicts and other obstacles to personal growth and healing.
Another important effect of using interaction with imagery in the counseling/therapy process is that the effect of the personality and expectations of the counselor/therapist are minimized as a result of the emphasis on the structure of the imagery process. After the initial period of teaching of the clients in how to use the process, the counselor/therapist acts more as a support to guide the process rather than to direct it and, afterwards, to help contextualize and ground the session, if necessary, into the clients more general experience of their lives.
So in counseling and psychotherapy the imagination can serve to open up the process for some people and help make the experience more closely match their learning/knowing style and, as a result, increase the effectiveness of the procedure.
What reactions do you have to these writings? Please post in the form of comments or questions on any aspect of the content in order to begin a continuing conversation.