Guided imagery, a type of mind-body medicine, is used most commonly to induce relaxation. It can also be used for other purposes.
In guided imagery, a person imagines and focuses on images that are intended to have specific effects on the body. To produce a relaxed state, one might imagine a peaceful place, surrounded by nature. Visual imagery is commonly used, but tastes, sounds, and smells may also be incorporated into a specific setting.
Evaluation in MS and Other Conditions
Guided imagery has not been rigorously examined for treating MS. One small-scale study was conducted in Pennsylvania. For this study, participants imagined beneficial immune system activity while also imagining the damaged parts of their nervous system being repaired. These participants had less anxiety and were also able to produce more active and powerful images of their disease. Depression and specific MS-associated symptoms were not affected by treatment.
Other studies have shown that guided imagery can be beneficial for treating anxiety, post-operative pain, cancer pain, and headaches.
Studies of guided imagery and the immune system have produced interesting results. One study was aimed at evaluating the effects of imagery on the adherence of a type of immune system cell known as a neutrophil. Participants used imagery to attempt to increase the adherence of their neutrophils. One group was actually found to have increased stickiness of these cells.
Imagery may also lower blood pressure. Some athletes use imagery to help improve athletic performance.
Guided imagery is usually well tolerated. People with psychiatric conditions, such as severe depression, may have difficulty tolerating guided imagery. It may produce feelings of fear, anxiety, or other disturbing thoughts. Guided imagery is not a substitute for conventional medicine when treating potentially serious conditions, such as MS.
Further studies are necessary for determining the effectiveness of guided imagery. Possible benefits may be seen, such as a reduction of pain and anxiety. It is inexpensive and appears to be safe.
References and Additional Reading
Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007, pp. 117-119.
Cassileth BR. The Alternative Medicine Handbook. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998:122–130.
Ernst E, ed. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. Edinburgh: Mosby, 2001.
Spencer JW, Jacobs JJ. Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. St. Louis: Mosby, 2003.
Weintraub MI, Micozzi MS, eds. Alternative and Complementary Treatments in Neurologic Illness. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 2001, pp. 177–178.
Hall H, Minnes L, Olness K. The psychophysiology of voluntary immunomodulation. Int J Neurosci 1993;69:221–234.
Maguire BL. The effects of imagery on attitudes and moods in multiple sclerosis patients. Alt Ther 1996;2:75–79.
Smith GR, McKenzie JM, Marmer DJ, et al. Psychologic modulation of the human immune response to Varicella zoster. Arch Intern Med 1985;145:221–235.
Van Fleet S. Relaxation and imagery for symptom management: improving patient assessment and individualizing treatment. ONF 2000;27:501–510.