Guided imagery, also referred to as waking dream therapy, uses mental pictures to fight disease and produce other desired effects. Until recently, imagery was practiced mostly by psychiatrists. A celebrated example was the 14 year old boy whose tic was permanently cured by Sigmund Freud through imagery the only complete cure described in all of Freud’s case studies, and the only one in which he used this method. Today, both alternative and conventional health professionals are teaching imagery to patients who have a variety of ailments, everything from stress related headaches to cancer. In simple terms, imagery attempts to enlist the brain to play an active part in healing. For example, the Simonton Imagery Process encourages cancer patients to imagine the positive effects of radiation on cancer cells, and to enjoy the feeling of control that comes from being in touch with the body. It is thought that this psycho logical involvement strengthens the patient’s immune system.
Dr. Gerald Epstein, a professor of psychiatry at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, has outlined dozens of imaging exercises in a book on healing visualizations. He describes one patient who credited her image of a broken bone knitting itself back together with healing her fractured wrist in three weeks instead of the anticipated three months. Epstein concedes that the rapid healing may have been a coincidence, but he believes he has witnessed similar results in too many other patients for coincidence to be the sole explanation. People who are perfectly well can also benefit from imagery. For example, many athletes, dancers, and musicians resort to imagery to improve their performance; actors sometimes draw upon it to overcome stage fright or help remember their lines.