Guided imagery or visualization is a safe complementary and alternative medicine to traditional cancer treatments. It involves using the mind to influence the health of the body by imagining sights, smells, sounds and other sensations to create a daydream.

Benefits of Imagery

Proponents of this alternative medicine claim imagery can help relax the body and in turn reduce the heart rate and lower blood pressure. Using the mind in such a way can alter the brain waves and thus give the cancer patient some relief from pain and anxiety. Supporters argue imagery used with cancer patients can relieve the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. It can also reduce stress and depression while helping with weight gain and bolstering the immune system.

Varieties of Imagery

A variety of techniques are used for imagery. One technique, called palming, requires patients to put their palms over their eyes and image a color that represents stress and anxiety and then a color that represents calmness. Another method involves envisioning a ball of healing energy forming in the chests and expanding throughout the body as the patient breathes. Yet another method has patients imagine themselves in a peaceful setting of their choosing and experiencing all the other sensations while in that particular setting.

Guided imagery is a technique often used with cancer patients. This involves picturing a specific goal and imaging the achievement of the goal. One such technique used is called the Simonton method, developed by a radiation oncologist, O. Carl Simonton, and psychotherapist, Stephanie Matthews-Simonton. Patients are asked to picture their bodies fighting the cancer cells and winning. A popular image uses the Pac-Man video game to picture the Pac-Man eating the tumorous cells.

Research on Imagery

As with many alternative medicines, study results are mixed. Some early studies suggested guided imagery was helpful in managing stress, depression and anxiety in cancer patients and may be helpful in lowering blood pressure and reducing pain and some side effects of chemotherapy. More current studies showed minimal results in improving anxiety during chemotherapy.

Although some studies have shown that imagery reduces anxiety in women with breast cancer and creates a direct affect on the immune system, scientific evidence does not support the theory imagery can cure cancer. The studies conclude the effects of imagery are more psychological in nature and thus certain benefits are afforded, such as relief from pain and reduction of stress and anxiety.


American Cancer Society