Guided Imagery

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James Metz, MD
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Guided Imagery is a technique that relies heavily on the power of suggestion to create relaxing mental images for the participants. It is particularly useful for relieving stress and relaxing the cancer patient. It is not a treatment for cancer, but some patients find it helps them cope with the diagnosis and side effects of treatments more effectively.

The therapist will instruct the participants to visualize a specific image. Sometimes the participant is asked to visualize a mass of cancerous cells being attacked by the immune system, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Many patients utilize guided imagery audiotapes, which provide instruction on meditation exercises, guided relaxation, and visualization techniques. Some patients use these tapes while they are receiving their chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or traveling to their treatments.

The initial goal of guided imagery is total relaxation. Patients learn breathing exercises to help them attain an "inner calm". Patients then try to modify their anxiety or pain by imagining a pleasurable scene or situation.

Guided imagery may make a cancer patient feel better, but it does not cure cancer. Do not replace conventional medical treatments with guided imagery. It may be used effectively in some patients for relaxation and relief of anxiety. If you are interested in guided imagery, try starting with audiotapes specifically for cancer patients such as those produced by Petrea King or Belleruth Neparstak.