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Chronic stress is one of the most common contributing factors in the development of mental health disorders and a leading cause of relapse for individuals recovering from substance use disorder (SUD). Stress reduction techniques, including meditation and guided imagery (GI), reduce the harmful effects of stressors and improve mental health. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), “Guided Imagery promotes an altered state of awareness.” In addition, “Imagery can also induce relaxation and help people cope more effectively with stress.” West Coast Recovery Centers uses mindfulness-based techniques, including guided imagery, to help clients heal and recover from SUD. 

What Is Guided Imagery?

Guided imagery involves mentally picturing specific scenarios or locations. People are most familiar with the guided imagery exercise of creating a calm and relaxing mental “safe space.” For example, some people choose to imagine they are standing on a beautiful beach. The imagined location can be based on a real place or a fictional one. 

A primary goal of guided imagery is to reach an altered state of consciousness to reduce stress. Often, guided imagery involves nature-based locations. Research has shown that nature-based guided imagery significantly reduces anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. According to Frontiers in Psychology, “Findings indicate that nature-based GI interventions are effective anxiety management interventions that have the added benefit of being cost-effective and easily accessible.”

People imagine different types of guided imagery, including: 

  • Positive imagery, such as a “happy place” or relaxing environment
  • Physiological imagery, such as imagining pain flowing out of the body
  • Mental rehearsals or reframing to prepare for a situation or process past events

Individuals in treatment or continuing care use written exercises, video and audio recordings, or live therapy sessions to successfully achieve guided meditation. The type of guided imagery used depends on the desired outcome and the client’s needs. All forms of GI decrease stress and relax the body. However, often, the goal of GI is to achieve other effects, such as preparing for an upcoming stressful event or coping with anxiety during a crisis. Pleasant imagery is the most common form of GI. People using this form of guided imagery focus on a peaceful and welcoming space where they feel comfortable and safe. 

Exploring Positive Visualizations During Individual and Group Therapy

Many people use guided imagery during individual or group therapy. The therapist verbally directs them through the process of building a relaxing image in their mind to achieve the desired result. According to Research in Psychotherapy, “The therapist will encourage the patient to explore their imagery with different senses and the scene might commonly become more vivid as a result.” Often, the more vivid a person makes their mental image, the more relaxed their body becomes. 

Guided imagery is used during individual or group therapy sessions for the following: 

  • Stress reduction 
  • Chronic pain management 
  • Trauma processing and resolution 
  • Achieving recovery goals 
  • Self-exploration
  • Mindfulness
  • Increasing empathy between peers 
  • Conflict resolution
  • Grief support 

The goals of the group or individual determine how therapists use guided imagery during sessions. 

How Guided Imagery Improves Mental Health

Guided imagery allows people to reimagine past events or create new and comfortable spaces in their minds. Some of the mental health benefits of guided imagery include: 

  • Increased ability to focus and concentrate on recovery
  • Improved coping skills
  • Reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders 
  • Improved self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Reduced trauma responses
  • Improved emotion regulation 

Often, guided imagery is most effective when combined with other forms of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), trauma therapy, and alternative holistic therapies. Moreover, GI affects the brain’s neural activity and increases the effectiveness of talk therapy and other therapeutic tools. 

Guided Imagery as a Therapeutic Tool

Psychotherapy uses guided imagery to help clients process past events, develop coping skills, and manage everyday symptoms. According to Frontiers in Psychiatry, “[S]ome treatment approaches entail switches between negative and positive imagery, for example, imagery rescripting.” Many treatment programs use biofeedback or other treatments combined with guided imagery to help clients better control their emotional responses. 

Harnessing the Power of Guided Visualization in Recovery

Guided imagery is a valuable tool. The clinical team at West Coast Recovery Centers uses mindfulness tools like guided imagery to direct clients through the recovery process. Most people respond positively to mindfulness and meditation-based exercises and take advantage of them to reduce stress in early recovery. In addition, guided imagery improves executive function and quality of life. According to Sensors, “Scientific studies have consistently demonstrated the positive impact of enhanced attention and executive function on various aspects of individuals’ lives.”

West Coast Recovery Centers harnesses the power of guided imagery by using a whole-person approach to care that prioritizes the internal processing of past events and current thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors. Clients are coached through using mental images to control and change emotional reactions to stress, reducing the risk of relapse. 

People use many methods to reduce stress and improve mental health. Guided imagery is a common mindfulness-based technique for focusing and relaxation. Individuals in treatment benefit from using guided imagery to develop healthy coping skills and improve positivity. Some therapeutic methods, like meditation, use guided imagery to help clients feel safer and more comfortable while processing trauma or other underlying issues affecting treatment and recovery. West Coast Recovery Centers uses various therapies combined with guided imagery, mindfulness, and meditation to help clients heal. Multiple visualization methods can be used to facilitate guided imagery. The care team collaborates with clients to determine what approach will provide the best results. To learn more about our programs, call us today at (760) 492-6509.

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
Jackson House Visalia (540056AP), Valid through May 15, 2025
DHCS Licensing and Certification Division