What is guided imagery?

Guided imagery is a proven form of focused relaxation that helps create harmony between the mind and body. Guided imagery coaches you in creating calm, peaceful images in your mind – a "mental escape."

Guided imagery provides a powerful psychological strategy that enhances a person’s coping skills. Many people dealing with stress feel loss of control, fear, panic, anxiety, helplessness and uncertainty. Research has shown that guided imagery can dramatically counteract these effects. It can help people overcome stress, anger, pain, depression, insomnia and other problems often associated with illnesses and medical/surgical procedures.

Positive role of guided imagery in medicine

Over 200 research studies in the past 30 years have explored the role of mind-body techniques in helping prepare people for surgical and medical procedures and helping them recover more rapidly. These studies have shown that guided imagery may significantly reduce stress and anxiety before and after surgical and medical procedures. In addition guided imagery has proven to help people:

  • Dramatically decrease pain and the need for pain medication
  • Decrease side effects and complications of medical procedures
  • Reduce recovery time and shorten hospital stays
  • Enhance sleep
  • Strengthen the immune system and enhance the ability to heal
  • Increase self-confidence and self-control

In addition to helping patients cope during a medical or surgical procedure, guided imagery can help patients undergoing chemotherapy, dialysis, in vitro fertilization or other treatment procedures.

Mentally preparing for your procedure

If you are undergoing a medical or surgical procedure, use guided imagery before, during and after the procedure.

  • Prepare to use guided imagery techniques before, during and after the procedure.
  • Identify your self-talk, that is, what you are saying to yourself about the surgery or procedure you are going to have. It is important to identify negative self-talk and develop healthy, positive self-talk. This is a powerful way to take control of the way you are reacting to the sense of unknown about the procedure.
  • Reduce pre-procedure worry by gathering information about the procedure, your doctor and the medical facility. You can also reduce worry by performing a self-assessment of your emotions. Then take steps to reduce anxiety, reduce unhappiness, and increase your social support and confidence.
  • Develop a working relationship with your doctors and nurses. Try to identify what occupies your thoughts in the days before your procedure.
  • Communicate with your friends and family members so that you have a sense of warmth, love and support in preparing and recovering from the procedure.


Practice these strong, positive statements to counteract negative thoughts and emotions before, during and after the procedure:

  • More and more I let go of things I can not control.
  • I am healthy, vital and strong.
  • There is nothing in the world I can not handle.
  • I am not judgmental.
  • I forgive and release the past.
  • All of my needs are met.
  • The challenges in my life are my teachers.
  • I am completely and utterly safe.
  • Every day in every way I am getting stronger.

What to bring to listen to your program

  • Ask your doctor or nurse if you will be able to play your guided imagery program during your procedure.
  • On the day of the procedure or surgery, please bring a portable CD player with headphones and new batteries. Or, if you downloaded your program to an mp3 player, bring your player (fully charged) with headphones
  • Please label the CD or mp3 player with your name, patient ID number and phone number.

Before the procedure

  • Begin listening to the guided imagery program as soon as possible before your procedure.
  • Listeners are encouraged to confront and work through any feelings of fear, anxiety or negativity.
  • After listening to the program, people report feeling a strong sense of peace and relaxation.

During the procedure

  • Most people listen to the program as they are being taken to the procedure room. The program will play continually during your procedure and during your recovery in the recovery room with your portable CD player or mp3 player set to continuous play. Our heart surgery staff is aware of the guided imagery program and will allow you to wear your headphones during the procedure.
  • People have responded that listening to the program during a medical or surgical procedure helps them to refocus their thoughts away from pain, anxiety and fear. In addition, they have reported waking from the procedure very comforted and less frightened.
  • During some interventional procedures, the physician will need to speak to you during the procedure. You may be able to listen before, but not during, these particular procedures. Ask your doctor if you will be able to listen to your guided imagery program during the procedure.

After the procedure

Begin listening to the program at any time after your procedure, preferably the morning after your surgery and twice daily during your recovery. You may need your family members, friends or nurse to assist you in putting the CD in the player or turning on your listening device, as you will be drowsy after the procedure.

The more you listen, the greater you will benefit!

  • You may continue to listen to the program after you are discharged from the hospital for personal relaxation or sleep after the procedure. It is helpful to listen to the program without interruption, if possible.
  • Family members have also reported a beneficial effect from listening to guided imagery programs to help reduce the anxiety of having a loved one in the hospital or undergoing a surgical procedure.
  • Patients must understand that guided imagery is not an alternative to medical or surgical treatment, nor is it a cure. Rather, it is an inexpensive, yet powerful way in which patients can actively participate in their health care.
  • Find out about Guided imagery compact discs or how to download programs to an mp3 player

Guided Imagery Program at the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute at Cleveland Clinic

If you are scheduled for a medical or surgical procedure at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, you may bring your own guided imagery tapes. We also have programs available for download to your computer or mp3 player at home. Your nurse can provide you with information on how to obtain the free audio downloads or you can pick up a card in our Patient and Family Health Information Center located at Q1-2.

If you are scheduled for heart surgery, you will receive information on how to download the audio tracks or you will be offered a complimentary cd during your pre-operative appointment at Cleveland Clinic. This program is optional for patients of Cleveland Clinic.* Learn about other tapes and resources

For more information about integrative techniques for relaxation, please call the Center for Integrative Medicine Clinical Practice at 216.986.HEAL.

Reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional.

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