Visualization and imagination

The ability to invoke or create images in your brain is an important mental function of the individual. Imaginative thinking can be used not only for solving everyday or professional issues, but for personal growth, as well as helping to maintain a young and healthy state of the body, giving a person energy and longevity.  

What are we talking about?

Directed imagination, visualization, guided affective imagery, katathym-imaginative psychotherapy... All these words are the modern names of the method of working with imagination. Few centuries ago only non-traditional medicine and philosophy were interested in it.

The skill of using images, a person gets already in childhood. It’s not a coincidence that thinking, which is used by children under 6-7 years old, is called visual. 

First, the child learns the simple actions with objects, his body and the consequences of his actions. Later it’s possible to do all this stuff in the imagination: to invent new combinations of objects and operations with them, to guess what can lead to invented actions. Images of objects and phenomena of the world around him help child. 

It is not only about visual imageries represented by pictures in the thoughts, but also about auditory, tactile, motor and many others, recreating in memory all aspects of the world. Till the moment when the child does not master the sphere of abstract-logical thought constructions, he literally thinks with the whole body: reactions to different types of sensations; activates the memory of motor sensations, flashes of emotions from the collision with objects and events.  

Childish thinking is not mediated by intricate logical constructions and complex notions about life's phenomena. Therefore, the image of a particular object or phenomenon directly evokes a number of sensual and physiological changes in the child's body, reminding the child of the experience of interaction with that object or phenomenon. 

Changes in body are associated with each image through complex neural connections in the brain of the child. Recent studies in cognitive neurobiology have shown that the brain uses the same neural connections when processing mental images as it does when it meets the physical world directly. Likelihood of interaction with this or that object arising in the field of human attention, really or in the imagination, leads the body to the state of readiness of "meeting" based on the memory of past interactions. 

Growing up, a person keeps the connection of physical response with imageries of imaginary reality. However, such connection becomes partially mediated by complex verbal constructions or concepts. Thus, for instance, the reaction "I am afraid" in a life-threatening situation is replaced by "I cannot move from my place, because my honor and dignity depend on it". A person plunges into the reality created by words and their meanings, rules and meanings, uses the second signal system of reality for thinking, as psychophysiologist I. Pavlov noted in the beginning of the XX century.

As a result, the direct imprints of reality - images of feelings - gradually become less visible, are displaced, ignored, and rejected to please the conscious cultural and social attitudes. Along with them, the subliminal and the real reasons of actions, diseases and psychological problems become the property of the subconscious.

The purpose of all approaches in work with imageries is a dialogue between the individual and the content of his or her subconscious. Addressing imagery makes it possible to find psychotraumatic factors underlying human problems and to have an impact directly on the organism without activating conscious control. 

The method focuses on solving communicative and existential psychological problems, work with depression and stress, help in setting and implementing professional and self-development tasks, reducing painful feelings, general rejuvenation of the body, prevention of diseases and promotion of rapid recovery. 

The American psychologist W. Schutz described the case of his client suffering from myopia who tried to present the image of his eyes. In the client's imagination there was a picture of a glass wall covered with small cracks, behind which was a rose garden, where the wolf was walking. The client felt the desire to get into this garden, but at the same time was very afraid of the wolf. Gradually, the wall in the client's imagination became transparent, but it was still not possible to pass through it. Answering the question about when this wall appeared, the client remembered an episode from childhood. At the age of 12, he was the victim of derogatory ridicule for "making eye contact" with a girl. This memory led to a feeling of great relief in the eyes and part of the facial muscles. The client was again able to make those eye movements that had been inaccessible to him for thirty years. As it turned out, this partial fixation of the eye movements was a major factor in his myopia. 

Thus, when analyzing freely occurring images and accompanying feelings, a person can come to a logical awareness of psychotraumatic moments

Where to start?

Working with imageries in the described approach comes down to four simple steps. 

The first stage defines the purpose of the work: psychological or physical problem. For example, the difficulties in eating healthy food and following a diet. 

In the second step, what the imagery of the problem is referred to. Usually a simple question is enough, for instance: "What does the problem look like?" or "What kind of imagery would be appropriate to illustrate feelings in this situation?". Let us say that the problem is expressed in the fact that cooking healthy food and eating habits are associated with a "black hole" that steals all the free time and energy.

The third step is to find the connection between the imagery and the life of the person who created it. In our case, it is a pity for a person to waste his or her fast running life time cooking. 

The fourth stage is aimed at transforming the negative view of the situation so that a new picture in the imagination, on the contrary, begins to contribute to the solution of the problem. In this example, a person will be asked to imagine how a time-sucking "black hole" is transformed into an unusual mechanism that "multiplies" the time entering it by increasing the efficiency of the body, which will allow more plans for the day. Fuel that provides the mechanism - useful food, eaten on the right schedule. 

Work with the imageries of psychological and physical problems is essentially work with superseded in the subliminal attitudes of personality. In fact, "figurative" attitudes to all phenomena and events of life - good and bad - are in the subconscious of each person constantly. Working with imagination only illuminates them for the consciousness, and the person begins to pay attention to what is going on inside him. 

Dr. David Bresler, president of the Bresler Center for Mind and Body Medicine in Los Angeles, describes the methodology he uses to help patients reduce pain in various diseases. One of his clients complained of severe back pain. At the doctor's request, the patient tried to imagine unpleasant feelings. The pain was like a huge fierce dog clinging to a man's spine. Bressler suggested that the patient talk to the dog and make friends with him. In doing so, the man noted that the pain was much weaker. Soon the pain completely subsided and the patient was on the mend. 

Retaining control

Quite often the imagery of the disease occurs in the form of something formidable, possessing a force impossible to cope with. In such cases, the work of the imagination is directed to transform the imagery until it will be perceived as fragile and weak. Whether this transformation is difficult, the work is carried out with the imagery of the patient's own organism. With the help of imagination, a person strengthens the idea of his abilities. 

Jinn Achterberg, Professor of Psychology at the Seabrooke Institute, has been researching which of the imageries used by patients to affect the disease are the most effective. She found that the best clinical results are the imageries of archetypal heroes fighting for their country (organism) with invaders (diseases) in the name of God or their people. Imageries of predatory animals: bears, rabid dogs, sharks helping to drive away diseases - also contributed to the recovery of patients, but slower. Weak and obscure images also had a weak effect. Patients with the most disappointing prognoses could easily visualize their diseases, but could not at all visualize their immune system struggling.

Dr. Patricia Norris of the Carl Menning Foundation described the story of her nine-year-old patient, who managed a malignant tumor in the brain by visualizing images from Star Wars. The boy underwent treatment with radiation that did not cause a positive effect. Surgical intervention was not possible because of the location of the tumor. The prognosis for life expectancy did not exceed six months. Of all the possible methods to fight for the patient's life, only visualization remained with the doctor. 

Every night before going to bed, the boy had a 20-minute session with images of his disease and immune system. He imagined the immune system to be powerful and strong in the form of a squad of space fighters, whose captain he was. His head "became" the solar system, where he wanted to settle down villain invader, which each time was pushed away by the fighters. The doctor describes that the patient's condition first began to deteriorate, but then he felt better. A brain scan five months later showed that the tumor disappeared. 

Thought and body 

Psychoneuroimmunology studies the mechanism of influence of controlled visualization on physiological processes of the organism. To date, an impressive number of studies have shown the effectiveness of image manipulation in facilitating the treatment of a number of conditions, including headaches and chronic pain associated with arthritis and physical trauma, coronary heart disease, cancer and other diseases. 

The effect of increasing the general resistance of the body to infections and diseases, as well as improving the general condition of the body and quality of life through the use of imaging has been documented.

At the moment the main mechanism of influence of visual thinking on the course of physiological processes in organism is the ability of central nervous system to influence positively and negatively on immune function of organism. 

In this connection the affection of stress on suppression of immunity work has been studied in the most detailed way. It is shown that feeling of helplessness, often accompanying stressful state, leads to formation of capitulation reaction: when the situation seems to be insurmountable, a person stops trying to cope with it and loses the feeling of real hope for favorable outcome. 

The surrender reaction increases the production of cortisol, which suppresses immunity, and suppresses the formation of neurotransmitter noradrenaline in the brain, which takes part in the regulation of blood pressure and peripheral vascular resistance.

Scientists have found a rather low dependence between serious stressful events of life (death of relatives, change of country, divorce and others) and the state of health of people who survived them. Only a small percentage of the sample of desperate subjects developed organic diseases soon after the events. 

The discoverer of the phenomenon of "learned helplessness", American psychologist M.E. Seligman, in his research on rats, discovered that those animals, which had learned to overcome difficulties at an early age, subsequently had stable health even in the situation of experimentally created chronic stress (intractable pain shocks). In these rats, malignant tumors were rarely accustomed to, they had high humoral and cellular immunity. Those animals, which capitulated to difficulties, behaved passively in the future even in negative situations with a real output, and quickly died from the implanted tumors.

Thus, the negative internal attitudes of the individual as to his physical state or ability to cope with life's difficulties found in the work with imaginative thinking provoke a frequently unconscious state of helplessness, which promotes early aging and increases human exposure to diseases. 

There are many techniques for dealing with negative attitudes based on logic and rationalization to change the world view. But the visualization method is the most effective and widely applicable due to the universality of the image language. Imaginative thinking, which originates in the childhood of every person, remains a reliable link to unconscious and bodily processes.

Thus, the widely known placebo effect is directly connected with the "figurative" effect on the organism. However, in this case, the mental image of a highly effective drug is supported by a physically existing dummy pill. Paying attention to the image of an effective medicinal product, the body accompanies the meeting with it those physiological changes, which correspond to the memory of how to improve health from a good treatment. The decrease in the state of helplessness due to the belief in the "pacifier" increases the resistance of immunity, which contributes to recovery.

Since ancient times mankind has known various "helpers" of figurative thinking, "pacifiers" of the past: magic amulets, conspired objects, shamanic rituals, magic spells. It is no coincidence that such images are often used by children for therapeutic visualization, having got acquainted with stories from tales and legends.

Main rules of working with imageries

  1. Personal approach.

According to W. Schutz, the less strict the instructions are given, the more likely it is that the imagination will generate an imagery that is most closely related to the internal attitudes of the person regarding the problem or disease.

Some people perceive reality mainly through visual images. For others, auditory, tactile, motor and other types of images may be more common. Therefore, to be most effective, some people will need to draw an image, and some people will need to feel in the body, to hear, dance, talk. There are no restrictions.

  1. To understand the purpose.

Working with imageries of problems and diseases does not involve self-deception. Carl and Stephanie Simontons - leaders of the Dallas Cancer Research Center, note that when working with imaging, some patients begin to feel that they are lying to themselves: continuing to convince themselves to reduce their own tumors, patients still feel their own increase. However, the purpose of the work is not to imagine what is really happening to the problem, but to imagine the desired result. It is important to tune the body and psyche to recover. 

  1. Constancy of mood. 

Dr. Kenneth Pelliter of Stanford University School of Medicine writes that the brain is unable to tell the difference between a real threat and how it feels. Therefore, a very important rule when working with the imagination is the persistence of a positive confident mood. In between classes, it is advisable to avoid negative thoughts, as well as during work, it is necessary to maintain control over the image, not allowing it to aggravate or remain frightening and strong. The image of the problem must be transformed at all times, making it controllable and manageable. 

  1. Focus on work. 

Working with the imagination is most effective when it happens in a safe and secure environment, regularly and with high involvement. It is very important to start work with a relaxation that helps to focus on the inner world of the body or the mental world. 

If thoughts begin to wander and switch to other processes, work should be interrupted to answer the question: "Why is it difficult to concentrate? After the time required to work with internal resistance, the process of imaging can be revisited. 

  1. A variety of approaches.

Working with imaginative thinking does not always involve resorting to free imageries. It is possible to use specially developed techniques with predetermined visualization algorithms. The internal support can be felt by specialists of psychotherapists and psychologists, special programs and audio instructions, metaphorical maps and books. Imageries can be worked on alone or in groups. 

The variety of approaches is conditioned by the multiplicity of human individuality and is intended to provide the greatest effect for each individual on the way to longevity and happy life.


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