It is increasingly taken for granted today, but in the 1970s it was a provocative notion to suggest a connection between the mind and the body to fight the effects of cancer – if anyone spoke of cancer at all.
The conventional wisdom until then was that cancer was a death sentence, painful and slow, and that all medical science could do was go through the motions to ease the suffering. But curiosity about why some patients with similar cancers and similar treatments responded differently led to a conclusion that those with a more positive outlook tended to respond better to treatment and went on to live longer, with fewer side effects.
The discovery was more stunning at the time because it came from a recognized, reputable member of mainstream medicine, radiation oncologist, Dr. Carl Simonton, who went on to say that feelings of hopelessness actually contributed to a hastier death, and those who offered patients no hope of survival or recovery were part of the problem.
Simonton added elements of meditation and emotional support to a cancer treatment program at Travis Air Force Base in California in the early 1970s and a few years later at a research and counseling center he founded in Fort Worth. He felt – and insisted he could demonstrate – that meditation and emotional support gave patients more of a sense of control over their cancer.
His work was instrumental in the development of what is now referred to as guided imagery. He taught his own patients to visualize their bodies in a literal war with cancer, cell by cell – and winning. Guided imagery, or mental imagery, is widely accepted and used now to manage the side-effects of cancer, specifically tension, blood pressure, and pain.
Guided Imagery Helps Manage Pain and Relaxation
Researchers in Southern California say they’ve concluded that while fear and stress don’t cause pain, they can amplify it, and the reduction of tension in the body can reduce its effects. They also maintain lower tension can also boost the body’s immune system. The research, they say, shows that pleasing images created in the imagination in one part of the brain can actually ease chronic pain in another part of the brain, and that in some patients the imaginary image is so strong the brain believes it to be real.
The images themselves are created by the patient, who is ‘guided’ into a physically relaxed state where all of the senses are used – to see every detail of the scene, smell all of the aromas, and hear all of the sounds. Patients can be taught to guide themselves into relaxation, deeper and quicker each time with practice, and stay as long as they want to escape the stressors on the body.
Reservations about guided imagery remain, much as some people have a lingering resistance to hypnosis in the mistaken belief they will walk down the street clucking like a chicken. Guided imagery and hypnosis both focus the mind while it is in a state of relaxation, and while guided imagery works in a hypnotic state it does not use hypnosis as such.
Whether it is meditation, guided meditation, guided imagery, or self-hypnosis, it is perfectly natural and completely safe.
Darielle Archer, CH, CHC, CNLP
Contact Darielle at The Positive Works