Peter Reznik, LCSW

Mental Imagery

"The key to the door of the inner world is imagination." - Morton Kelsey

Imagination is a powerful mental process that has been used for millennia for physical and emotional healing. It is a potent healer that can relieve pain, accelerate the recovery process and overcome disorders ranging from depression to allergies to cancer.

Mental imagery is the universal and primary language of all humankind. Before learning to speak, your mind perceived, comprehended and stored images. Imagination may involve all senses: visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory. When you recall childhood memories or learn new information, you do so through sensory images. Here's a quick example: think about adding 5+4. Do you see the numbers in your mind's eye, as an image? Think about your most recent meal or the last person with whom you spoke. Do you see these images?

Mental imagery as a tool for exploration
While spoken words are a product of the intellect and can be used to rationalize, deny, or misrepresent reality, guided imagery exercises enable you to fully see, feel, and know the truth of your inner world, as well as uncover the roots of any problem.

Consider how an imagery exercise helped B., a 41-year old woman. B. suffered from severe headaches for three years, during which she found only temporary relief from biofeedback sessions and a self-hypnosis course.

During an initial meeting B said she could not understand why her headaches were unbearable in the "most beautiful times" when her "lovely family would get together" for holidays.

B. was asked to go inside of her head and to meet and befriend the Ache, which appeared as a "big sad blob." B. invited the Ache to go to the bank of the river (her most favorite place) and there, the Ache told B. that it hated her mother-in-law. It hated when her mother-in-law called almost every day telling B. how to raise her child. It hated when on holidays her mother-in-law controlled "every breath of everyone present." B. was asked to thank the Ache for coming to share this information.

B.'s understanding of the source of her headaches was the starting point for healing. A three-month course of therapy ensued, during which she made changes within herself, her relationship with her mother-in-law and other aspects of her life. Her headaches subsequently disappeared and had not reoccurred at the time of a one-year follow-up.

Mental imagery and healing: understanding the link between images and the body
Imagination not only provides a window on your inner experience, but a means for transforming your physical and emotional health. Indeed, imagery is the interface language between mind, emotions and body.

Relax for a moment and imagine this: You are late for an appointment and as you turn the corner you see your bus, just about to leave. You are fifty yards away. You dash ahead, and luckily make it on time.

Consciously, you did not command your body to fill your bloodstream with sugars and fats to give your muscles more energy. You did not ask your brain to release norepinephrine to make your heart beat faster. You did not request your body to slow down its digestive process so that all energy could be directed towards running. And yet all of this happened instantaneously in response to your intention (to be there) and an image (seeing the distance between you and the bus). Your body had innate wisdom to produce necessary physiological responses to accomplish your goal.

The link between images and physiology is particularly exemplified by sexual arousal, blood pressure fluctuations, and breathing pattern changes. These bodily functions can be instantaneously altered by images carrying such powerful emotions as lust, anger, and fear.

Directing your imaginal reality can positively alter your physiology, and emotions, leading to the eradication of illness. Conversely, allowing your mind to run rampant with worrisome or fearful thoughts can negatively affect your health. This latter point is more widely understood. It is commonly known that headaches, ulcers, and insomnia, for example, can be the result of chronic tension or stress which impact your physiology and make you more susceptible to bodily breakdown.

Using mental imagery for psychological change
Consider another case example. C., a 48-year-old woman sought help for insomnia. C.'s grandfather sexually molested her as a child, and since that time she regularly experienced anxiety before going to bed. Even after falling asleep, C. would wake up numerous times with anxiety. Although four years of psychoanalysis helped C. to understand the dynamics of her familial relationships and convinced her that she was no longer unsafe, her sleep problem never resolved.

C. underwent an imaginal experience of re-membering her past in a new way. She did an imaginal exercise in which she saw herself being able to stand up to, fight off, and expose the behavior of her perpetrator. Although her factual memory of the event did not change, C.'s emotional memory of helplessness was transformed into a new emotional memory of self-reliance, courage, and confidence. Due to this exercise and to additional therapeutic work lasting three months, C's sleep problems subsided and then disappeared.

Imaginal work can release negative blocks in your psyche and create a new reality.

Using mental imagery for physical healing
A 57 year-old male, D., suffered from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), for which he was unsuccessfully treated with medication for six months. D. repeatedly stated that he could not "stomach" his daughter's husband. Through therapy, D. came to understand how his stomach problems related to his inability to accept his daughter's husband. He was taught alternative ways of thinking about and relating to his son-in-law. He then practiced a mental imagery exercise to cleanse his stomach (in the River of Life.) After three weeks, his IBS disappeared and after a one-year follow up, his problems had not reoccurred.

The biochemical effects stimulated by this exercise coupled with the changes D. made in his life, resulted in the eradication of his condition.

Practicing mental imagery
Practicing mental imagery can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. Most exercises last under one minute and are practiced at regular intervals throughout the day. They are done while sitting in an upright position, with the eyes open or closed.