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Can Guided Imagery Work Just a Day or Two before Surgery??

07 Oct

We got this question a while ago, and it's a great opportunity to talk about how fast guided imagery can work in a pinch... every study with our pre-surgical audio program supports the answer we provide here.

Dear Belleruth and Health Journeys:

I am interested in conducting research at my facility using your surgery audio program. How long prior to the patients scheduled surgery should the patient start listening to the imagery? Is there any evidence of its effectiveness if the patient only starts using it a day or two prior to surgery? Thanks.

John P.

Dear John:

Thanks for your interest in doing a study. We welcome all studies increasing our knowledge base - the more the better!

The answer to your question is yes. We know for certain that 2 or 3 days ahead of surgery is plenty of time for someone to start using the surgery imagery and get positive results with blood loss, pain, anxiety and healing time.

I was surprised to learn this, actually, because when we first released that imagery, we thought a couple of weeks would probably be necessary in order to have this kind of impact.

But Henry Bennett's study (written up by Henry Dreher) on 335 surgery patients proved otherwise. Patients received our tape (yes, this was in the days of tapes) exactly 2-3 days before surgery (listening an average of 4 times) and this produced reduced blood loss (an average of 150 cc's), reduced length of stay (an average of 28 hrs), far less use of pain medication and plummeted both pre-op and post-op anxiety (both state and trait ratings on the POMS scale).

These findings were later corroborated and enhanced by a large Blue Shield of California study, showing all of this plus substantial cost savings as well.

Since then, with the arrival of "drive by surgery", where people are in and out in no time, we have had considerable anecdotal data from people who only had a chance to listen once, sometimes not until waiting in the pre-op area, and even they apparently do really well.

So go figure.

It actually looks like, under these circumstances – an unnerving situation with an anticipated (dreaded?) date involved, such as impending surgery or chemotherapy, or even an audition, competition or test – the results are even stronger for the person using this technique. The greater the anxiety, the greater is the benefit. Counter-intuitive, perhaps, but true from what we see all the time.

Best of luck with the study, John. And please keep us informed!


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.