Guided Imagery

The mind is a powerful healing tool. Using our imagination, we can visualize almost anything. Guided imagery (or visualization) is a therapeutic technique that has been used for centuries. By creating images in the mind, a person can reduce pain, stress and other symptoms associated with his or her condition. The more specific the visualization, the more therapeutic it will likely be. Guided imagery is offered at CHOC as part of our integrative health services. We teach patients to imagine sights, sounds, smells, tastes or other sensations to create a kind of daydream that “removes” them from or gives them control over their present situation.

grassy meadow

How does guided imagery work?

Guided imagery involves envisioning a certain goal to help cope with health problems or the task or skill a child is trying to learn or master. Guided imagery is most often used as a relaxation technique that involves sitting or lying quietly and imagining a favorite, peaceful setting like a beach, meadow or forest.

Studies have shown that guided imagery can help the mind and body relax. It can help in managing anxiety, stress and depression; help reduce pain, lower blood pressure and lessen nausea; help with sleeping; and give people a better sense of control and well-being. Our pediatric psychologists use guided imagery to help children, adolescents and teens cope with illness or stressful situations, and will teach them how to perform these exercises on their own so they may use these skills whenever they need them.

Listen to our pediatric psychologists as they guide you through scenarios to help you feel better.

“The Special Cake” — Pain Management for Kids

“Climbing a Ladder” — Pain Management for Adolescents

“Midnight Sky” — Help for Pain and Fears

“Your House” — Help for Pain and Anxiety

“The Listener” — Easing Worries

“The Magic Kite” — Relaxation for Anxiety

“The Protective Cape” — Gaining Peace of Mind

“Tinkerbell” — Relaxation

“The Turtle Technique” — Stress Management

“Thumbelina” — Falling Asleep

“Deer Family” — Falling Asleep

“A Wolf in the Forest” — Falling Asleep

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (English)

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (Chinese)

How to Use Guided Imagery on Your Own

Guided imagery is a tool that helps your body by letting your mind take you to healthy places that feel good. It uses your imagination to change your thoughts by focusing on your senses (sound, vision, smell, taste, touch, movement). It’s like daydreaming—when your mind begins to wander and you imagine that you are doing something fun. You can decide what to think about and what to imagine and the best part is that your brain will listen.
The main things you need are your brain and your imagination.

Other things you may use:

  • A favorite memory or pictures of things you like doing or places you wish you could be.
  • A favorite smell or scent.
  • A CD or recording with a visualization or imagery script.
Do this anytime you are feeling nervous, stressed, angry, worried or are in pain. You can use it during times you wish you could go or be somewhere else because you are uncomfortable.
1. Close your eyes.

2. Take 3-5 deep belly breaths.

3. It’s time to imagine you are going to your special place. Where would you like to go? If you could be anywhere in the world at this moment, where would you be? At the beach with family, out with friends, at a sports game, somewhere feeling healthy?

4. When you have picked out a place, picture yourself there. Through your mind, you can be at this place as if this were really happening.

5. Use all of your daydreaming skills and think about every little thing that makes this place and experience just as you like it.

  • What do you see?
  • What does it smell like?
  • What does it taste like?
  • What sounds do you hear?
  • What do things that you can touch feel like?
  • How does your body feel as it moves (or rests) just the way you want it to?
6. Be aware of how comfortable your body feels when you are imagining yourself in this place. You may notice your breathing slow down and your muscles feel looser as your whole body starts to relax.
Have you noticed that when you think about sad stuff, you feel sad, or when you think about things you are worried about, you feel nervous, or when you actually think about your pain, you hurt more? Fortunately, just like your body and brain listen to you when you are thinking about bad stuff, you can start to think about good stuff to feel better. Usually when you think about good stuff, you start to feel better and more comfortable. It’s like changing the channel on your TV to something you really want to watch or turning the volume up or down in your body to a level that is more comfortable for you. If you’re sad or afraid, your mind can bring you to places that feel happy and calm. If you have pain, for example, your mind can help you picture yourself comfortable and relaxed. You can find the places in your mind where you’re in control of your body and where you feel happy and relaxed.
A favorite smell or scent can make your imagination activity more enjoyable and bring your special place to life. Using a special scent before or during the imagery activity can help you to feel even more comfortable and relaxed.

Sometimes people find it difficult to do this imagination activity on their own. If this is the case for you, you may be able to use a photograph or a picture from a book or the computer to help jump start your imagination. It may be helpful to have someone, like your mom or dad, lead you through this activity. Listen to our guided imagery recordings, or maybe you already have a CD that describes a special, relaxing place to you. You can listen to this CD and use it to help your mind picture yourself there. Or, if you are in the hospital, the Child Life department can loan you a CD.

Video: Guided Imagery

In this segment of American Health Journal, Cindy Kim, PhD, gives information about guided imagery, a progression of mental images, as a way to enhance coping with stress, pain management and improving overall relaxation.