Guided Imagery

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Alert to learners: It is strongly recommended that this unit be completed in a quiet environment. Please use headphones, as there are some audio components that require limited background noise for clarity.

This module is also for U-M Department of Family Medicine Residents on the FPO2 rotation.

The purpose of this unit is to help medical students, residents and faculty assist their patients with:
  • Immediate relief from symptoms that could negatively impact treatment in clinic, and
  • Tools to use longer-term for managing chronic or ongoing challenges to compliance and/or well-being. 

Setting the Stage

Picture this: A patient presents in your clinic for a vasectomy. This is the second time he has scheduled, having been a no-show for his previous appointment. He is very anxious and unsure of his ability to "get through" the procedure.

Picture this: A patient with known non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) has completed treatment for breast cancer and is being seen for her health maintenance visit. She is having trouble consistently monitoring her glucose levels. She is very anxious about "chemo brain" and fatigue.

As you begin to consider these two patients and the effects of anxiety on their health and abilities to cope, consider that they have effective internal resources to bring to bear. Your brief intervention can positively impact their experience.

Everyone Uses Imagery in Some Form
Imagery is a skill that all of us employ, often without an awareness of it. Athletes and Performers – mental and physical rehearsal for desired outcome. Worrying – worriers do not like to hear it, but if you can imagine something going badly, you can imagine it going well – the skill is "picturing."

Imagery Examples
  • Daydreaming
  • Spiritual or religious practices
  • Prayer, ritual, chanting
Example: The rosary – calming tactile sensations of beads/stones; repetition of phrases governs breathing, heart rate; image of "Mother Mary" who is an advocate and empathic sufferer.

Attractive Intervention 
  • No side-effects; safe
  • Non-invasive
  • Usually immediate results of symptom relief/management
  • Internal locus of control
  • Adaptive to variety of situations
  • Easy to learn
  • Imagery is attractive to practitioners/patients

Brief Demonstration
The Mind-Body Connection is a powerful bond that becomes a tool for changing physiology. The mind's senses are stimulated to create an experience to which the body reacts. Before the discussion of the mechanisms of action underlying guided imagery, let us try it.


Disclaimer: The University of Michigan Health System Web site does not provide specific medical advice and does not endorse any medical or professional service obtained through information provided on this site or any links to this site.

Use of the UMHS web site does not replace medical consultation with a qualified health or medical professional to meet the health and medical needs of you or others.

While the content of the UMHS web site is frequently updated, medical information changes rapidly and therefore, some information may be out of date, and/or contain inaccuracies or typographical errors.

Note: This module was originally developed by U-M Department of Family Medicine faculty member Amy B. Locke, M.D., and Claire Casselman, M.S.W., from the U-M School of Social Work, in 2009. It is maintained by Dr. Locke. Last updated: May 2013.

Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Details and Exceptions. © 2013 Dr. Amy Locke.

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