Visualisation / Guided imagery

Visualisation and guided imagery belong to a branch of therapies known as complementary and alternative medicines (CAM).

Visualisation is based on the premise that the mind is the body's most powerful tool and that certain intense visualisation techniques persuade the body to translate these images into reality. A session can be led by a therapist, use recorded guidance or can be self directed. Participants are helped to create positive mental images of desired outcomes or states. The approach is often used to develop a sense of calm or relaxation, and can be used alongside hypnotherapy​ by some practicioners.

Visualisation and guided imagery have been used to treat depression, fibromyalgia, anxiety and pain, with mixed results. A small study comparing visualisation to a journalling exercise for people with multiple sclerosis found small improvements in fatigue, mood and quality of life. However, there were large numbers of drop-outs, who may have left the trial because they could see no benefit, leaving only the ones who enjoyed it or found benefit to be counted.

Some researchers think that there is evidence that guided imagery and relaxation can affect the immune system, leading to a reduction in winter viral infections. The authors recognise a large variation between individuals in how well this approach might work.

An example of relaxation exercises that include elements of guided imagery

Find out more

Case LK, et al.
Guided Imagery Improves Mood, Fatigue, and Quality of Life in Individuals With Multiple Sclerosis: An Exploratory Efficacy Trial of Healing Light Guided Imagery
J Evid Based Integr Med. 2018; 23
Full article (link is external)
Gruzelier, JH
A review of the impact of hypnosis, relaxation, guided imagery and individual differences on aspects of immunity and health.
Stress. 2002 Jun;5(2):147-63.
Summary (link is external)