using guided imagery to heal in recovery

using guided imagery to heal in recovery

How to use guided imagery as a tool in your recovery from an eating disorder, addiction, or trauma

Many of the most powerful experiences I’ve witnessed in session with my clients have in some way involved guided imagery. If that sounds a little new-age woo-woo for you, stick with me for a minute.

As psychologists Judith Rabinor and Marion Bilich write in Effective Clinical Practice in the Treatment of Eating Disorders, “Focused imagery, in a relaxed state of mind, has been shown to positively affect medical conditions such as cancer, to improve self-regulatory capacities such as heart rate and blood pressure, and to enhance performance in a wide variety of fields (Naparstek, 1995).”

So what exactly is guided imagery? Basically, it’s an umbrella term for any type of focused imaginative exercise that incorporates one or more of the senses (visual, auditory, olfactory, kinesthetic, and tactile). You can do some types of guided imagery on your own, and others are easier with a therapist or other trained practitioner directing the exercise in a group or one-on-one setting.

Rabinor and Bilich continue, “We have found that guided imagery is a powerful but underutilized tool that can transform one’s clinical work no matter what one’s theoretical orientation… Imagery is the language of the unconscious. It has long been known that imagery techniques tap into that deep level of consciousness that cannot be accessed by words alone, giving voice to the unconscious thoughts and feelings that may affect behavior.”

In my experience, guided imagery — especially when used in conjunction with evidence-based treatments like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or Internal Family Systems (IFS) — can help people access deeper layers of awareness, insight, and healing than they’re able to reach with purely cognitive approaches.

EMDR with a Therapist

With EMDR, a widely-renowned trauma therapy modality, imagery is a key component of the protocol. While it’s important to allow space for the client’s experience to organically flow where it needs to, a well-trained therapist can deepen the healing work by skillfully guiding the client through the session, often involving rescuing or reparenting the younger wounded self.

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