Patricia is a 65 year old wise woman who was diagnosed with metastatic ovarian cancer 15 years ago. She was already familiar with guided imagery as a vehicle for insight. She used it to ask her unconscious mind for an image that could help her through what she imagined would be a terrible ordeal.
She saw herself on skis at the top of a very steep mountain. A lifelong skier, she immediately understood that she was about to push off on a run that would demand all her skill and determination. She also saw that while the effort would challenge her to the extreme, it was clearly possible for her to make it all the way through if she gave it her full attention and focus. She got the sense that when she did make it all the way down, she would be living life on a much deeper and more effective level than she ever had before.
This image was useful to her throughout many twists and turns of her journey with cancer, reminding her to stay focused on where she wanted to go and not let herself get lost in her fears. Patricia did “make it”, and she counts guided imagery as one of the tools that enabled her to do so.
When, like Patricia, you are diagnosed with cancer, you can find yourself over-whelmed with emotions at a time when you most need to keep your wits about you. While you are alive, you have hope, and you have options. You have will, imagination, and powerful natural healing abilities within you that you can stimulate by the way you use your mind.
What Is Guided Imagery?
Guided Imagery like the kind Patricia used trains your mind to listen to your body’s wisdom. “Imagery” is simply a flow of thoughts you can see, hear, feel, smell or taste. It is the expression of dreams and daydreams; memories and reminiscence; plans, projections and possibilities. It is the language of the arts, the emotions, and most important, of the deeper self.
“Guided imagery” is a process of being lead or “guided” to tune in to your own natural imagery, and to “listen” to the messages and meanings that imagery may reveal about what you need to heal. Guided imagery techniques range from simple visualization and direct imagery-based suggestion, to metaphor, dialogue and story-telling.
Why Use Guided Imagery to Fight Cancer?
The shock, disorientation and anxiety that often come with a serious cancer diagnosis can overwhelm one’s sense of confidence and make it hard for you to feel effective or powerful in a time when you may most need inner strength. Imagery can help you reconnect with your own resources and begin to use them effectively on your own behalf. Guided imagery CDs are easy to use, inexpensive, and have rapid psychological benefits.
Research at the Carnegie-Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh has shown this method to be extremely effective in helping people shift from one mood state to another. Learning to shift from helplessness to hopefulness at will is an empowering experience for anyone, especially for anyone feeling overwhelmed with the fear of cancer.
The benefits of imagery are tangible and physical – studies prove that patients who use guided imagery can experience an increase the numbers and aggressiveness of natural killer cells when practiced over time, a reduction in complications from surgery, relief from pain, and can experience a lessening of the adverse effects of chemotherapy.
How Guided Imagery Helps
When diagnosed with cancer, you may not only face an on-going threat to life and well-being, you often also face conflicting recommendations on the part of the best experts in the field and the resulting uncertainty as to the best course of treatment. One use of guided imagery is to help you make good decisions about your treatment. For instance, by using guided imagery to help you imagine a wise and caring figure, called an “inner advisor” or “inner wisdom” that has your best interests at heart, you can make the best possible decisions in a time of stress.
Helene spoke with her inner advisor through imagery after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Because of the type of cancer she had, she had received a number of different treatment recommendations from top level oncologists and surgeons. These ranged from two different types of surgery, choices of approaches to breast reconstruction, radiation and the possibility of adjunctive chemotherapy. She used guided imagery to decide from a “deep level” what treatment course would be best for her.
Using the Fighting Cancer From Within CD and Book Set, Helene was directed to fully relax and imagine herself in a beautiful safe place and to have a conversation with an image of a wise and loving “Inner Advisor.” An angel-like figure came to her mind, large, ethereal yet substantial, and winged.
Helene felt a sense of love and wisdom from the advisor and invited it to be comfortable with her. She discussed all the information she had gathered with the advisor and asked it to help guide her to choose the best treatment for her. The advisor seemed to respond in a way that made Helene feel that surgery followed by radiation was the best treatment for her – that it had the best evidence behind it and her own intuition confirmed that it was the course she wanted to choose.
The advisor affirmed that choice and Helene felt surer than she had to that point about her treatment plan. At the end of their dialogue, she thanked the advisor for coming. In response, it enfolded her in its large golden wings and surrounding her with a profound sense of warmth and love. She was very moved.
Helene was clearly relieved to have reached what felt like a good decision for her. But more important to Helene, she found out she was not alone. Even though she was a woman deeply connected to family and friends, she discovered another kind of connection – a profound sense of being part of something that ultimately went beyond life as she knew it.
Guided Imagery can access a kind of wisdom and compassion that can not only help you make good treatment decisions but may also link you to a sense of being feel loved and connected to life, the mystery, and to your spirituality in a very personal and tangible way. This sense of support can help you through adversity and fear.
Guided imagery evokes personally meaningful and relevant imagery that are necessary in holistic cancer care. They range from relaxation and anxiety reduction images to those that stimulate healing responses in the body, to those that mobilize personal strengths and resources in the service of healing.
Since imagery is a natural way that the human nervous system codes, stores, processes and accesses information, its uses for someone with cancer are not limited to simple relaxation or immune system stimulation, but also include methods for decision-making, accessing and building emotional strength and experiencing events in ways that are most functional for supporting the healing resources of the individual.
About the author: With over 35 years of experience in guided imagery for health, Dr. Martin Rossman is a nationally-recognized leader and innovator in the field of imagery for self-healing. The author of two classic books on guided imagery, he founded The Healing Mind in order to make high level instruction in guided imagery for self-healing affordable and accessible. The Healing Mind’s unique self-guided program Fighting Cancer From Within Book and CD Set, and 30 other guided imagery programs, along with research, commentary, and links can be found at www.thehealingmind.org.