Guided Imagery Treatment for Fibromyalgia

Guided imagery is a form of therapy that aims to focus and to relax the patient undergoing the therapy.  This therapy uses visualization and guides patient to imagine all the details of a particular situation that can help them achieved that state of relaxation.

Since Fibromyalgia is often made worse by stress resulting in severe pains, muscle aches and symptoms like restless leg syndrome, Guided Imagery is used to create a state of relaxation with the associated physical benefits this creates. Using guided imagery, people with Fibromyalgia can learn to use their minds to improve their physical state.  

The positive impact of Guided Imagery for pain and symptom relief related to fibromyalgia has been thoroughly studied and is highly recommended.

What You Can Do Right Now

How to Select a Good Guided Imagery Practitioner

Self-teaching guided imagery therapy is possible but some people prefer to have a trained practitioner conduct sessions.  Still others buy CDs or download training courses in guided imagery, and then continue to practice with those.

There is no official certification for licensing practitioner of guided imagery, but this training is often offered as a service by professionals with training in other areas such as psychology, psychiatry or even religious ministry.

It may be a good idea to seek a referral from your primary-care physician or friends you trust. Practitioners should not mind you asking for references – this is the best way to determine whether or not they are right for you. Decide what it is you want to get out of your experience and ask them for previous clients who have achieved the same results are you aiming to achieve.  You can also ask them about how they teach you the guided imagery and what their underlying principles may be.  Simply having a good conversation with a potential teacher can help you see whether you will be able to work effectively with this person.

History of Guided Imagery

The belief that the imagination has the power to heal the body has roots reaching back as far as history. Traditional folk healers known as shamans used guided imagery to treat ailments. In Eastern medicine, envisioning well-being has always been an important part of the therapeutic process. In Tibetan medicine in particular, creating a mental image of the healing god would improve the patient's chances for recovery. The ancient Greeks, including Aristotle and Hippocrates ("father of modern medicine") also had their patients use forms of imagery to help them heal.

Modern research into the effects of guided imagery began in earnest in the 1960’s, as research into biofeedback began to take place. The pioneers of modern Guided Imagery therapy was Carl Simonton, M.D., chief of Radiation Therapy at Travis Air Force base in Fairfield, California, and psychotherapist Stephanie Matthews-Simonson. Simonson & Simonton devised a program that utilized guided imagery to help his cancer patients. The patients pictured their white blood cells attacking their cancer cells (sometimes in scenes that resembled the popular video game "Pac-Man"). Simonton found that the more vivid the images his patients used (for example, ravenous sharks attacking feeble little fish), the better the process worked. This process is known today as the Simonton Method.

Other leading figures in the modern field of Guided Imagery Therapy include Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli. Freud’s 1923 paper "The Ego and the Id," stated "it is possible for thought-processes to become conscious through a reversion to visual residues. In many people, this seems to be a favorite method: thinking in pictures."

Further support came for the technique when, in 1969, German psychiatrist Hanscarl Leuner presented research on his form of visualization, guided alternative imagery, through lectures at Princeton University and publication in the American Journal of Psychotherapy. Leuner is now considered to be one of the fathers of modern guided imagery.

Theory behind Fibromyalgia Treatment using Guided Imagery

Guided imagery does a number of things that can be helpful for people with fibromyalgia.  

It breaks you out of the cycle of pain>anxiety/fear>leading to more pain.  It also helps you to focus on something other than the pain you may be feeling.   Guided imagery creates a feeling of relaxation and control that has a positive effect for people with Fibromyalgia.  It improves quality of life scores and can help some people relax so they are able to sleep better.  

It also teaches you to breath more deeply and has a positive effect on slowing down the reactions of the sympathetic nervous system which can cause pain.  Guided Imagery is not a 'cure' but is can be extremely effective in reducing pain and improving quality of life and personal relaxation.

Research of Fibromyalgia Treatment using Guided Imagery

While it may be surprising, Guided Imagery is one of the treatments for which there is the most available scientific research.  Here are a few examples of some of the studies that have been done.

Efficacy of hypnosis/guided imagery in fibromyalgia syndrome--a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials (2011)

Summary: This was a systematic review of a number of clinical trials looking at the benefits of hypnosis and guided imagery for the treatment of Fibromyalgia symptoms. Six randomized controlled trials were examined in light of a set of outcomes including pain, sleep, fatigue, depressed mood and health-related quality of life. The conclusion was that there were some challenges because of differences in how the studies were conducted but that hypnosis/guided imagery did reduce pain significantly compared to control groups at the end of the studies. They did not have an impact on quality of life. The other measures being studied could not be addressed becuase of limitation in the sample sizes and differences between the studies.


Relaxation and guided imagery in Hispanic persons diagnosed with fibromyalgia: a pilot study (2008)

Summary: This pilot study used a repeated-measures pretest-posttest design to investigate the effects of a 10-week mind-body intervention (visual imagery with relaxation) on symptom management for patients with fibromyalgia. The change in means from baseline to week 10 demonstrated improvement in self-efficacy for managing pain and other symptoms and functional status. The study concludes that "Visual imagery with relaxation is a mind-body intervention that may be used for symptom management in this population."


Effects of guided imagery on outcomes of pain, functional status, and self-efficacy in persons diagnosed with fibromyalgia (2006)

Summary: The goal of this study was to investigate the effects of a 6-week intervention of guided imagery on pain levels, functional status, and self-efficacy in persons with fibromyalgia and to explore the dose-response effect of imagery use on outcomes. The study was done with 48 people who had fibromyalgia and were randomized into a group that received guided imagery training and scripts and tables and a group that did not. The ratings of self-efficacy for managing pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia increased significantly over time for the group receiving guided imagery, while their Fibromyalgia impact questionnaire scores decreased. the study concludes that this "demonstrated the effectiveness of guided imagery in improving functional status and sense of self-efficacy for managing pain and other symptoms of FM. However, participants' reports of pain did not change."


Stories of Fibromyalgia Treatment using Guided Imagery

Anecdotal stories about the usage of Guided Imagery by people with Fibromyalgia are common and easy to find. Many people use tapes to help them learn and practice Guided Imagery, and people suggest that there are a number of free programs for guided imagery relaxation that can be useful.
Guided Imagery is said to be helpful for resttess leg syndrome, as well as being a great way to start and end the day and to help you unlock your anxiety and find moments of peace as well as being able to sleep more easily. "Each time you use them, you'll get better at it."

Oner person with fibromyalgia talked about how focusing on the pain is what causes a vicious circle where the stress and anxiety caused by worrying about the pain make the pain worse, and that one way to break the cycle is by using guided imagery. Slowing down the breathing is said to lower all the other reactions of the sympathetic nervous system and then decrease pain. This person said the she knows for sure how effective this is.

Guided imagery is definitely also lauded as a way to reduce the anxiety and panic that can come with the pain of fibromyalgia.

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