Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier - The Best Alternative Medicine

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Imagery and Visualization: What Works

  • In a 1994 controlled experiment, Dr. Christopher Sharpley used biofeedback-assisted imagery to train healthy subjects to lower their heart rate reactivity while being exposed to a stressor. This effect was found to have been maintained when subjects were followed up twenty-eight weeks later. In the workplace, those who had received imagery training showed less stress reactivity than the controls.

  • A well-known use of imagery has been in the adjunctive care of cancer patients. This application of imagery was pioneered in the early 1970s by radiation oncologist Dr. O. Carl Simonton and Stephanie Simonton, who began teaching the active use of adjunctive imagery to cancer patients. Patients were encouraged to imagine their immune system cells engulfing and devouring vulnerable cancer cells. However, there has not yet been a definitive study that demonstrates whether this works. Nevertheless, many patients have found it helpful, even if they were not cured, and have reported relief of anxiety and pain, better toleration of chemotherapy and radiation, and an increased sense of control.

  • On March 10, 1999, Landmark issued an updated report which confirmed their earlier projections in documenting that 67 percent of 114 HMOs offered at least one form of CAM. Among the most common were chiropractic at 65 percent and acupuncture at 31 percent. Furthermore, whether or not they presently offer CAM services, an overwhelming 80 percent of the HMOs think that the integration of conventional and CAM services will grow closer in the future.

  • Research shows that imagery produces specific physiological effects in the body. Studies have indicated that imagery, particularly visualization, can have a direct effect on the immune system. It appears to directly influence production of immune system cells, increasing lymphocyte and neutrophil counts, and levels of secretory immunoglobulin A. One study of elderly patients showed an increase in killer T-cells.

  • Although not strictly an imagery study per se, one of the most intriguing findings was published by Dr. Joshua M. Smyth and his colleagues in JAMA on April 14, 1999. For their study, 112 patients wrote an essay over a three-day period expressing their thoughts and feelings about a traumatic experience. For those patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis, there were positive changes in their health at four months later as compared to a control group. These changes were beyond those attributed to their conventional medical care. Whether or not these positive changes will persist beyond four months or whether this intervention can be applied with other diseases will be the subject of future research.



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Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, Inc.

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