Guided Imagery for Depression

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Guided imagery is a self-care technique said to aid in the treatment of depression. Often led by a practitioner or a recording, it aims to minimize negative or stress-inducing thoughts by focusing on pleasant images. Some alternative medicine proponents suggest that guided imagery can help relieve depression in part by altering certain mind-body connections thought to influence mental health.

While the visualization exercises used in guided imagery tend to vary, they often include concentrating on peaceful and comforting images, such as serene nature scenes.

Why Is Guided Imagery Used for Depression?

Preliminary research indicates that practicing guided imagery may help improve mood, a key factor in alleviating depression. There's also some evidence that guided imagery may help reduce stress, another issue closely linked to depression.

Research suggests that guided imagery may help with a number of other stress-related health problems, including chronic pain and insomnia.

The Science Behind Guided Imagery and Depression

Although there's currently a lack of large-scale, long-term clinical trials testing the use of guided imagery in the treatment of depression, a few small studies suggest that this technique may be helpful for depression relief.

In a preliminary study published in Archives of Psychiatric Nursing in 2009, for instance, 60 people with depression either continued their usual care or listened to a compact disc containing guided imagery exercises once a day. After 10 days, those assigned to treatment with guided imagery showed a significant improvement in depression (as well as in anxiety and stress).

In addition, some research has found that guided imagery may help treat depression related to other health problems. This research includes a study published in Holistic Nursing Practices in 2015, in which 60 people with fibromyalgia were assigned to a control group or treatment with guided imagery for eight weeks. Compared to the control group, those who practiced guided imagery reported significantly lower levels of depression and pain at the study's end.

What's more, a study published in Cancer Nursing in 2002 determined that guided imagery may help treat depression among people with cancer.

For this study, 56 people with advanced cancer who were experiencing anxiety and depression were assigned to one of four treatment conditions: training in progressive muscle relaxation, training in guided imagery, a combination of progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery training, or a control group. While progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery did not appear to reduce anxiety, patients who practiced these techniques seemed to experience improvements in depression and quality of life.

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While guided imagery is generally considered safe when used correctly, it's important to note that this technique should not be used as a substitute for the mental-health-professional-provided care of depression. 

If you're experiencing symptoms of depression (such as a persistent feeling of sadness and/or hopelessness, loss of interest in daily activities, decreased energy, and difficulty concentrating), make sure to seek help from a mental-health professional as soon as possible.

Alternatives to Guided Imagery for Depression Management

Several other types of alternative therapy may be beneficial for people with depression. For example, research suggests that receiving acupuncture, undergoing biofeedback training, and practicing meditation each show promise as an alternative approach to depression management.

If you're considering the use of guided imagery (or any other type of alternative therapy) in the treatment of depression, consult a mental-health professional for help in incorporating the therapy into your self-care plan.

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