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What is the difference between Guided Imagery & Progressive Muscle Relaxation

13 Oct
A nurse asks BR how progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) compares to guided imagery, if it’s as effective as imagery, and if combining it with imagery makes for a more powerful experience…
How does progressive muscle relaxation compare to guided imagery? Is it as effective? Can imagery be improved by combining PMR with it?
Tina Barrow RN



Dear Tina,
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is effective as a relaxing intervention, and some people find it easier to use, preferring the simple directions for clenching and then releasing various muscles. And relaxation is a wonderful thing. But all things being equal, guided imagery, which has both a relaxing component and healing content as well, is more effective than relaxation alone. It’s kind of like Relaxation Plus.

In addition, many people find PMR boring and they tend not to use it after a while, whereas imagery is better able to capture the imagination, elevate seratonin levels and produce pleasurable, reinforcing responses. In fact, in the Bennett study, patients with the imagery intervention used it an average of 2.5 times before surgery, whereas the other 3 interventions averaged only a tad over one time per subject.

So all in all, I would say that for most people, imagery offers more. But some prefer the kinesthetic directions of PMR. Similarly, for some adding PMR to imagery would be an improvement; for others an annoyance. It depends on who’s listening.

Thanks for the question.

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