When guided imagery for cancer was introduced in the 1980s, it was met with skepticism from the medical community. However, as the works of pioneers like Bernie Siegel, Larry LeShan, Stephanie and Carl Simonton, and others gained traction and attention, patients began to embrace guided imagery.
While it was initially sold as a cure for cancer, this idea caused alarm among medical professionals. Guided imagery was not meant to replace conventional treatments, and this misconception could draw patients away from necessary medical care.
Early guided imagery techniques focused mainly on visualization, but it became clear that not everyone could perform visual imagining. Some patients required engagement of their other senses, including hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Additionally, some needed to tap into their emotions to effectively benefit from guided imagery.
Despite limited research at the time, clinicians and researchers identified several benefits of guided imagery for cancer patients, including reduction of unpleasant side effects, improved quality of life, and increased energy, confidence, motivation, and hope.
Subsequent research has continued to highlight the positive effects of guided imagery on the immune system at a cellular level. Studies have shown an increase in natural killer cells and detailed how guided imagery can affect white blood cells and lymphocytes.
While it is unlikely that guided imagery can cure cancer on its own, evidence suggests it can improve the immune function of cancer patients. In fact, if the person performing guided imagery believes in it wholeheartedly and works to cleanse their physical, mental, and emotional bodies, there is a possibility of curing many ailments, including cancer.
Some of the medical research related with guided-imagery:
1. The effects of guided imagery on the immune system: a critical review
by Trakhtenberg EC (Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Palo Alto, California 94303, USA.)
Abstract: The research on the effect of guided imagery (GI) on immune system is reviewed and, accordingly, a direction for future research is proposed. Studies suggest that: GI can reduce stress and elevate the immune system; cell-specific imagery affects corresponding WBCs, neutrophils, or lymphocytes; decreases in WBC count occur in the initial stages of GI and relaxation due to fluctuations in WBC production or margination; and changes in WBC count or adherence occur earlier in medical patients. Directions for further investigations: Definition of the ideal WBC count; the effects of long-term practice of GI; and influence of cell-specific imagery on WBCs.
2. The effect of hypnotic-guided imagery on psychological well-being and immune function in patients with prior breast cancer
Objective: To determine the effect of hypnotic-guided imagery on immune function and psychological parameters in patients being treated for Stage I or II breast cancer.
Methods:To determine the effects of hypnotic-guided imagery on immune function and psychological parameters, the following study was undertaken. Psychological profiles, natural killer (NK) cell number and activity were measured at baseline, after the 8-week imagery training program and at the 3-month follow-up.
Results:There were significant increases in improvement in depression (P<.04) and increase in absolute number of NK cells, but these were not maintained at the 3-month follow-up. Hypnotic-guided imagery did cause some transient changes in psychological well-being and immune parameters. However, these changes were not retained after the treatment ended.
Conclusions: Many studies during the last 15 years have demonstrated interactions between the central nervous and the immune systems. While a negative effect of stress on immune responses has been demonstrated, there have also been published reports that psychological treatments can positively alter the immune system. However, given the complexities of immune system kinetics, the transient nature of any psychological effect and the insensitivity of immune assays, our study indicates that there is a role for hypnotic-guided imagery as an adjuvant therapy.
3. A review of the effects of hypnosis on the immune system in breast cancer patients: a brief communication
by Hudacek KD (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Abstract: In order to make a recommendation about the use of hypnosis as adjuvant therapy in the treatment of breast cancer, 2 studies assessing the immunological effects of hypnosis in patients with early stage breast cancer were evaluated: (a) an experiment that taught hypnotic guided-imagery therapy to patients and (b) one that provided participants with home visits and autogenic training. Both investigations demonstrated improvement in depression and increased natural killer (NK) cell counts after 2 months of hypnosis treatment. However, neither study determined the clinical significance of hypnosis in the setting of cancer, and therefore future experiments are needed to relate the immune-mediated effects of hypnosis to hard clinical outcomes like survival rates.