Pain Control Through Guided Imagery

Pain control through guided imagery: chronic pain has disabled millions of Americans. Research shows that the use of guided imagery visualization can help one to overcome pain's hold on life.

Chronic pain has afflicted millions of Americans. It is defined as pain that has lasted longer than six months. Generally, it does not respond well to traditional medical treatments and is a source of discouragement for both the patient and the health care provider. It can affect all aspects of an individual's life, ranging from home and work to social activities. Two major sources of chronic pain include migraine headaches and arthritis. The prevalence of chronic pain increases with age. The health problems, which cause chronic pain rarely, cause death. People with chronic pain experience more disability days, spend more time in hospital, and have more frequent doctor contacts than those who don't experience chronic pain.

The person who is experiencing chronic pain is often overwhelmed by the intensity and/or duration of the discomfort, as well as the emotions such as depression that accompany it. However, researchers are discovering that certain psychological techniques help people in pain to gain some sense of influence over their sensation and emotion. Examples of such methods include progressive muscle relaxation, hypnosis, self-hypnosis, meditation and yoga, and imagery. All such techniques help the person suffering from the chronic pain to focus their attention in a variety of ways.

In ancient and modern times, in both East and West, the use of guided imagery for visualization has been a cornerstone of many healing methods. The earliest visualization techniques ever recorded are from Babylonia and Samaria. Histories of all peoples, from ancient Egypt and Babylonia through the middle ages and right up to modern times, include accounts of healing, and these all incorporate visualization in one form or another. Now imagery is becoming important and influential once again. In 1964 Robert Holt offered a strong argument in favor of imagery research in his article, "The Return of the Ostracized." Now many psychologists are recognizing imagery and visualization as among the most powerful tools in cognitive psychology.



From their studies of biofeedback scientists have learned that certain techniques were enabling people to influence their own internal body processes, such as heart rate and blood pressure. An important aspect of biofeedback, called visual imagery, involved a period of relaxation, during which the patient would mentally picture a desired goal or result. For instance, the cancer patient, this would mean his attempting to visualize the cancer, the treatment destroying it and, most importantly, his body's natural defenses helping him recover. Now, research is beginning to show that this visual imagery referred to as guided imagery, can be a very effective tool in battling the disabling chronic pain.

Essentially, what the doctors and scientists are discovering with this is that the mind, body and emotions are knit together as a unitary type of system. Therefore, if any one of these is affected, then all are affected. What is being discovered is the fact that there is not simply a question of believing that mind can affect healing, but of knowing from the inside that this is true. Recently there have been many attempts to create ready-made visualizations on video or audiocassettes. These are being prescribed by many physicians and other health care providers who assist clients that are suffering from chronic pain syndromes.

These tapes provide recorded messages that guide the client through a process of visualization to create images that serve as messages from the unconscious to consciousness, much as dreams are. In order for these to be effective, the guided imagery exercise should be practiced as least once daily. Also, a positive attitude toward the exercise, feeling it as a true helper to the body's well being, even if temporarily it is very tough, is very important. This appears to be vital to the success of the imagery exercises.

The tapes and/or videos may be purchased through many medical supply stores, bookstores, or through physicians or other practitioners who specialize in the field of pain management. They are available in varying forms. Some guide the individual through a state of deep relaxation to produce a significant reduction in the amount of discomfort one feels. There are recordings to assist the person into Breath Relaxation to control his or her breathing, which can often help reduce anxiety and enhance relaxation. In addition, tapes teach self control training by using repetition of key phrases and images to facilitate feelings of relaxation and calm.

As the individual who suffers from chronic pain learns these deep relaxation and visualization techniques, he or she will begin to experience a growing sense of peace in both the mind and body so that pain will no longer have control over his or her life.

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