Experiential Treatment at The Council on Recovery: Guided Imagery

By Rosemary Wentworth, MA, CGS, CAGS, CCDP-D, LCDC

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 4.38.50 PMAt The Council on Recovery, one of the tools used in the Experiential Programs is Guided Imagery. Its lineage is over a thousand years old in many cultures: Taoist, Buddhist and Western religious traditions.   About 40 years ago, medical pioneers Oyle, Drs. Simonton, Assagioli, Bresler, and Rossman began to research imagery in order to work with people dealing with chronic pain, immune dysfunction, cancer, heart disease, and other catastrophic illnesses.

Eventually, approaches from Jungian and Gestalt therapies, Psychosynthesis, Ericksonian hypnotherapy, object relations and communications theory were integrated in order to develop Guided Imagery.   Psychotherapist Naparstek, working with Vietnam Vets on issues of PTSD at the Medical Center in Virginia, catapulted the use of Guided Imagery into peer reviewed research domain. Emerging out of this field is the concept of PTG, Post Traumatic Growth, which states that positive change can come as a result of struggle.  Our clients struggle with addiction and recovery and can be helped along in their process with the tools of Guided Imagery.

Guided Imagery can be used to shed light on choices made that may have undermined well-being and to allow for a change of perspective that is more aligned with mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness.

Imagery calls on our imagination. It uses the mind body communication of images which is the natural language of the nervous system. One part of our brain thinks with words and logic, processing information sequentially. The other part of our brain thinks with images and feelings and processes information simultaneously.  This mind body dialog is constant and we are unaware of its continuous stream.  It is constantly influencing all parts of us.

You can experience this now by recalling a recent moment when you had a disagreement with someone.  Notice what happens to your body:  your breathing, heart rate, muscle tension, and anxiety.

Now recall a scene where you felt close and enjoyed being with someone.  Notice what happens to your body: your muscles relax, breathing is deeper and slower, heart rate is lower and you have an overall feeling of well-being.

Both situations involve the use of intention, attention, and imagination.  Guided imagery uses these three aspects of ourselves in a focused and directed way so that deeper parts can be reached to enhance recovery.

The Placebo Effect, which has statistical validity and reliability, has shown us that thoughts trigger the body’s self-healing abilities.  Research in the fields of psychoneuroimmunology and clinical medicine indicate that the internal and external changes a person makes correlate directly with health and longevity.  Guided Imagery is used in sports, stress and pain management, chronic illness, anxiety, trauma, and addiction.  It is used to work through anxieties by visualizing other possibilities to fearful situations.

Using the flow of thoughts to see, smell, taste, feel, and hear, we create an image. This representation of our inner experience is coded and stored as information.   When using Guided Imagery (directed thoughts in a focused state), the body responds as though what we are imagining is real.    Golfers use imagery each time they visualize hitting a golf ball into the cup. Our bodies do not know the difference between real and imagined scenarios.  fMRI studies show that whether we actually experience something or only imagine it, the brain activity recorded by the MRI is the same. This relaxed state helps with performance, thinking, creativity, healing, and learning.

When thoughts are worry, tension or negative, we can redirect with guided imagery.  At The Council on Recovery, our focus is on Addiction, and we use guided imagery to help clients:

– Connect to their Higher Power / Inner Resources
– Connect with their Inner Child 
– Forgive themselves and others
– Discover and confront fears 
– Have conversations with their “addictive self”
– Release Guilt / Shame / Blame
– Safely revisit the past and ‘reframe’ 
– Feel the benefits of Self-love and Self-care
– Deepen their relationship with their higher power 
– Connect with feelings of gratitude


Alcohol and Other Drugs – Health Journeys by Belleruth Naparstek healthjourneys.com

“Created this guided imagery with the help of several 12-step groups and recovery counselors, using heart-opening imagery to help reduce addictive craving and teach relaxation skills. It includes images of the body restoring itself and regaining vitality to accentuate positive motivation and support sobriety. (61 min.) Keywords: 12 step, recovery, chemical dependency, addiction, compulsive behavior, drug use.”

Guided Imagery Mix Six Brief Meditations for Mind, Body & Spirit by Belleruth Naparstekhealthjourneys.com

“This mix of 6 brief guided imagery segments was retuned and remixed from favorite titles into self-contained clips, to provide quick access to a relaxed, healing mind state – especially useful when time is short. It includes imagery for Favorite Place, Sitting in the Seat of the Heart, Surrounded by Protection, Walking Meditation, Settling into the Body and Affirmations for Healing the Heart. Mix and match however you wish. 73 minutes”

The Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, Mind-Body Center Store (relaxation CDs, videos, DVD)  www.mbmi.org.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center website has free MP3 downloads with transcripts on various Guided Imagery themes (Daily Intention, Inner Advisor, Pain Relief)


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