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Can Guided Imagery Help a Developmentally Disabled Client?

12 Nov


Dear Belleruth,

I am a clinical and research psychologist who has worked with developmentally disabled adults for over 15 years.  

Have you ever utilized guided imagery with this population?  I would like to incorporate this method into my practice, assuming it makes sense for my clients to do so.  I would appreciate information on this.  Can guided imagery work for my people?  

Thank you for your answer.

Dr. John T. from Massachusetts


Dear John T,

The short answer is: yes, absolutely!!  So much of guided imagery works on the lower, survival-based brain centers – the brain stem and the mid-brain – that it makes no difference re its impact, whether you’re a rocket scientist or an adult with an IQ of 70 .  Certain aspects of this equal-opportunity intervention, such as music quality, voice tone and breath-entrainment, work on everyone.  

Perhaps the rocket scientist would have a richer appreciation for the fancier word choices, but who knows? Maybe the person with the developmental disability gets a bigger bang from the music, and that equalizes the impact.

What I do know for certain is that there have been several studies in recent years, assessing the efficacy of imagery and hypnosis for developmentally disabled adults, and the outcomes look very good.  And I’ve also heard from several clinicians that they’ve found these immersive techniques quite helpful for this population.  So by all means, John, give it a try and let us know how it goes.

And if anyone reading this has some clinical experience to share, please post your wisdom.

All best,


Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award