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Does It Matter if We Listen to Guided Imagery with Our Eyes Closed?

21 Mar

We got this excellent question from a practitioner who wonders if there’s research support for closing one’s eyes while listening to guided imagery. 

His sense is that people have more access to their unconscious and sub-conscious when their eyes are shut because when we shut down the frontal cortex, the imagistic mid-brain becomes more active. He asked what BR thought about this.

Check out his question and Belleruth’s answer:

Question:

I use guided visualizations in my work and have been using them for more than 25 years. I tell people that when they close their eyes they have more access to their unconscious and sub-conscious than when their eyes are open.

I say this mostly because of my own experience and my understanding is that when you shut down the frontal cortex, your mid-brain becomes more active.

Are there any articles that back this up?

Thank you.
Steve Harriman

Answer:

Dear Steve,

This has certainly been my experience and observation over 30 years of clinical work as well.  But I'm not aware of any studies to back this up. That doesn't mean they don't exist – just that I haven't come across any. 

It is true that when a listener leaves her eyes open, she risks distracting herself from tuning in fully to her own internal images, sensations, perceptions. You want to drive attention inward. Open eyes can cut down the impact of imagery by providing sensory “competition”, so to speak.

This is why, when imagery is offered on a TV screen in a hospital, it is better to leave the screen blank, or with a static image, or a repetitive, trance inducing image (like waves washing ashore) or with an immersive, repetitive, abstract pattern that has no inherent meaning. That way, you aren’t directing attention away from what has meaning to the end user, generated from the inside, in the trance state.  

This matter of closing the eyes is one of the reasons I’m not crazy about Virtual Reality as a substitute for old-fashioned, low-tech guided imagery, generated from the end-user’s own, internal powerhouse of an imagination. You can’t beat it for efficacy, and, unlike VR, it costs nothing to do it this way (or close to nothing). It’s all right there for the taking in our basic, human wiring. 

VR or a video does come in handy, however, if people have trouble imagining or turning inward. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, that people, for a variety of reasons, can’t do this. In that case, it’s better to give them a visual image or a virtual image over nothing at all. 

Another point: some people don't need to close their eyes to access their own rich, intuitive, imaginal states. They can turn inward with their eyes wide open or their lids at half-mast, just as easily as with closed eyes. In fact, some are trained to meditate that way, and do this automatically.

Further, some trauma survivors (most of whom can drop easily into the altered or dissociated state) find it frightening to close their eyes, and do much better with their imagery practice if they can keep their eyes half-closed while using the technique to help heal their trauma.

All best,

br signature

Belleruth 

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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