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Can imagery help with bipolar disorder?

02 Jan
A woman writes from Australia, asking if imagery can help her friend who suffers from bipolar disorder.. he was taken off lithium by his General Practitioner because of toxic side effects
Do you have information relating ''guided imagery'' and its usefulness in the management of affective bipolar conditions? A friend is now 54 and has been taken off lithium (toxic side affects) - ''pattern'' has now gone into about a 6 week cycle. I am concerned that his emotional coping reserves have been radically reduced - with possible suicidal ''solutions'' presenting themselves.

If you have information, I would be happy to pass it on to his GP and his ''mental health management team'' in our small rural community. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Cheers and Best to you in 2006.

Sharon R.

Dear Sharon,
Guided imagery is a gentle, incremental technique - quite powerful and effective in its own way - but probably not sufficient on its own to take down the intensity of your friend’s hard-to-control condition and bring him into balance. It can certainly help to keep him steady once he’s gotten that way, but he probably needs to be stabilized with some alternative medication to lithium first.

Fortunately there are now plenty of choices for bipolar illness other than just lithium, and his GP needs to consult with a psychiatrist who is up to date on the latest pharmacological therapies that are available. It’s not unusual for this to take a while, and an inexperienced doc could get alarmed or discouraged - it’s often a lot of experimentation with different combinations before you can find the protocol that’s most compatible with your friend’s unique biochemistry. Psychiatrists who’ve had experience with bipolar illness are used to fiddling with dosages and combinations; GP’s are not. (And sometimes it’s still frustrating and difficult to find the right combination.) That’s why this GP needs consultation.

Once your friend is stabilized, he can then use guided imagery, qigong or yoga, and other self-regulation techniques to maintain his mood and to even reduce the amount of medication he needs. Our Depression or Relaxation and Wellness imagery could do it, as could mindfulness meditation, breath work, yoga and even aerobic exercise - they all work well for mood stability, and it would be more a matter of personal preference and what he would be most happy to use on a daily basis. But first he needs to get back into balance.

Good luck and all best wishes for the new year,
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