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Does guided imagery work for everyone?

21 Feb
A traumatized woman who has trouble concentrating wonders if imagery works for everyone, or if some people perhaps just cannot use it; she’s been using the trauma imagery and does not notice any difference..
Question:
Does guided imagery work for everyone? Are there any psychological conditions where it wouldn''t help? Conditions caused by extreme trauma and abuse? I have tried reading your book but am having a hard time concentrating right now. I got your trauma tape from the library at the suggestion of my therapist, and listened to it many times, but didn''t notice a difference in me. Maybe I need to listen over a more extended period of time, I don''t know. I''m just wondering if it helps everyone who uses it. Thanks, Toni.



Dear Toni:
Guided imagery works for a lot of people, but not everyone. I would guess that there is no intervention that works for everyone, actually. And for some traumatized people, especially those who’ve been sexually abused, listening to a soft, relaxing voice can raise all kinds of alarm bells and have the opposite effect - panic, alarm, and a sense of danger. So you never know. But, most of the time, imagery is very helpful for traumatized people.

You don’t have to concentrate for it to work, and that’s fortunate, because most people suffering from acute or posttraumatic stress have trouble concentrating - that’s pretty typical. But you can zone out, fall asleep or think other thoughts altogether, and, chances are, over time, it will help, and there will be an incremental effect. It’s true that some people feel a difference right away. Sometimes it’s pretty dramatic. But it’s also commonplace to just have the impact accrue very subtly, day by day, without being terribly aware of it.

So I would say this, Toni. Don’t give up on it yet. Listen once or twice a day for 2 or 3 more weeks if you can, and just pay attention to the extent that you can. Don’t worry if you zone out completely. If it makes you actively uncomfortable or upsets you, of course, stop. But otherwise, if you still feel there’s no difference after a couple of weeks, then I’d suggest you put it aside for a month or two - try something simpler, like breathing exercises perhaps or simple relaxation imagery - and then take the trauma imagery out again and see if you’re not more ready for it then.

Good luck and take care.



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