Introduction to Mental ImageryMental imagery, sometimes called visualization, guided imagery, and often used interchangeably with the practice of meditation and hypnosis, is the language used by the mind to communicate and make sense about the inner and outer worlds (Shafer & Greenfield, 2000). Imagery, refers to the awareness of sensory (physical), and perceptual (cognitive), experiences which have been used in a variety of health and healing practices in the Western world for over three decades (Heinschel, 2002). Meditation, mindfulness, hypnosis, and yoga are also techniques commonly used in Behavioral Health Programs today to assist in high-level awareness health education sessions (Kabot-Zinn,1990). While there is something unique and peculiar about thinking in mental images, or understanding the meaning of "pictures in the head" as it applies to health and well being, this uniqueness is to receiving attention in the theoretical and research literature (Pslyshyn, 2002). Given the diverse role of the imagination appears to have in healing, the difficulty in studying the invisible world scientifically, religious groups who oppose such practices, and the differences in preconceptions held by practitioners, it is no surprise that there are many distinct views on the practice and value of mental imagery (Pinker & Kosslyn, 1983, Snaith, 1998).
Role of Imagination in HealingIn the last decade, interest in the practice of mental imagery, and the role of the imagination in health and well being, has dramatically increased as a popular approach for treating a wide variety of psychiatric, medical concerns, and enhancing sports performance (Shafer & Greenfield, 2002; Bloom, 1998; Epstein, 1989). In fact, ten million North Americans of all ages admit openly to practicing some form of imagery or meditation, to reduce stress, boost the immune system, and cope with life threatening illnesses. This number has doubled compared to admitted devotees a decade ago (Stein, 2003; O’Donnell, Maurice, & Beattie, 2002). While the principles of mental imagery have been utilized in healing since the beginning of medical history, recent pioneers embracing the scientific merit of mental imagery are transforming the healing practices in Western medicine (Ader, 1981; LeShan, 1989; Selye, 1956; Simonton & Henson, 1992; Borysenko, 1988; Benson, 1975; Brigham, 1994).
Mental States and Physical Health Are Intimately ConnectedThe era of health care reform has placed a great emphasis on brief therapies, behaviorial health, and alternative practices involving the cooperative relationship of the therapist, and the active participation of the client (Elliott, 2003). As a result, doctors, health care providers, therapists, and patients acknowledge that mental states and physical health are intimately connected (Lemonick, 2003). Advances and shifts in health care practice have stimulated education, training, and the clinical application of imagery for the treatment of mental health, substance abuse, and medical problems. Mainstream Americans no longer have to search for gurus in the mountains or the Far East to inquire about the practice of mental imagery. Information is now offered and training provided in schools, hospitals, law firms, government buildings, corporate offices, and prisons (Gruzelier, 2002; Stein, 2003).
Next: Imagine Yourself Well