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
- 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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BEST ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: WHAT WORKS? WHAT DOES NOT? by Dr. Kenneth R.
Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Kenneth R.
permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York.
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