The Use Of Guided Therapeutic Imagery In Counseling

When you see an old photo of yourself or loved ones from years back, what do you feel? Pictures of these events probably trigger a rush of memories and emotions. Snapshots of a trip overseas, your graduation, your first day at work—these probably make you remember how excited, happy, or nervous you were. 

Photos are windows to our memories and experiences, capturing moments in our lives. We might associate feelings with specific memories, and photos may remind us of these. They tell our stories, both happy and sad, those that end well and those that don’t. The adage remains true: a picture is worth a thousand words.  

Images are also potent tools for evoking emotions, and at the same time, they can be key to our relaxation. Because of this, counselors might make use of a technique called guided therapeutic imagery. This method makes use of the power of images to relax us. Guided therapeutic imagery might be a good fit for you, especially if you are a photographer or interested. Read on to learn more about this powerful form of meditation.   




The Origins Of Guided Therapeutic Imagery

Guided imagery has been used as early as the ancient Greek period. Countries like China and India have also used this technique to be a part of traditional, religious, and healing practices. 

During the 1970s, Dr. David Bressler and Dr. Martin Rossman pioneered the use of guided therapeutic imagery in counseling, integrating it with the treatment of physical illnesses such as chronic pain and cancer. Today, the technique is an established alternative and complement to medicine.  

How Guided Therapeutic Imagery Works

Guided therapeutic imagery is a type of meditation. To begin, you must be in a quiet place with little to no distractions. You must be in a comfortable position, one you will be able to hold for a while without fidgeting. 

During the session, your counselor will provide verbal directions for you to follow in your mind. For instance, they may ask you to envision a very peaceful place. It may be a natural landscape or even a comfortable room. It depends on what peace means to you. 




Your therapist will instruct you to use all your senses to capture the whole scene. They may ask you to include sounds, textures, and even aromas in your imagery. During these moments, you must abandon any thoughts besides that of the relaxing imagery. This is why guided therapeutic imagery is a good healing method. 

Aside from influencing your mind, guided therapeutic imagery is also designed to relax your body. When your mind is focused on the calming imagery, your breathing deepens, allowing your muscles to relax. This will relieve tension and possibly aches that you feel in your body. 

Guided Therapeutic Imagery Techniques

There are different techniques used in guided therapeutic imagery. One popular method is listening to guided imagery scripts. These scripts can be in the form of audiobooks or voice recordings. Once you have learned the technique, you may practice using scripts without the help of your counselor.

You can also do guided therapeutic imagery in a group setting. Your counselor can refer you to support groups that use this technique in counseling. There are also yoga classes that incorporate guided imagery.

Another technique used in guided imagery involves the use of music as part of the therapy. This technique is similar to the use of hypnosis. The relaxing music played in these sessions can also help you reach a state of relaxation faster. A major difference between guided imagery and hypnosis is its purpose. The use of hypnosis helps a person become more accepting of new beliefs. 




Mental Health Problems That Can Be Alleviated Through Guided Therapeutic Imagery

In recent years, guided therapeutic imagery in counseling has been a popular method in stress management. Studies show the effectiveness of guided imagery in reducing disorder symptoms. Some of the mental and emotional problems address through guided therapeutic imagery include:


  • Anxiety and depressive symptoms
  • Post-traumatic stress symptoms
  • Different types of stress
  • Relationship concerns
  • Family problems
  • Substance abuse issues


Additionally, guided imagery in counseling can also manage maladaptive behaviors. It can help control impulsivity and compulsion. Your counselor can also use guided therapeutic imagery to manage your pain and blood pressure and enhance your performance. 




Is Guided Therapeutic Imagery For You?

Imagining a peaceful and calming scenario can be difficult in a world with a lot of distractions. Like any counseling method and technique, guided imagery has its pros and cons. Depending on your personality and lifestyle, you can assess whether guided therapeutic imagery is for you.

Firstly, the good things. Unlike other stress management techniques such as yoga, guided imagery is also more inclusive. People with physical limitations can engage with the session without the risk of being injured.

Guided imagery can disrupt negative thought patterns. This will help you become more resilient towards stressful events. As a result, you will be influenced to have a more positive mindset. This can affect your mood and attitude throughout your day and your overall quality of life.

The only con for guided therapeutic imagery is it can be difficult to master. We live in an age where information travels at a very high speed. Entertainment is at the tip of our fingers. It will take a lot of practice for you to immerse yourself in your mind completely. However, with the use of audio recordings or the help of your counselor, you will be able to enjoy this technique. 

Guided therapeutic imagery is just like taking photographs. But instead of taking pictures with a camera lens, we use our minds to create a live, vivid scenery. If you enjoy photography and the visual arts, you may enjoy incorporating this practice into your daily life. The few minutes it takes to practice guided imagery can greatly affect your mental and physical well-being.  

This technique can improve the connection of your mind and body, providing easier access to your inner wisdom. Despite being a new method, guided therapeutic imagery in counseling offers an efficient alternative approach to improve your health.

Why Your Counselor May Suggest Photography As Part Of Your Mental Healing

“Killing yourself slowly is still killing yourself. Wanting to die is not the same as wanting to come home. Recovery is hard work. Not wanting to die is hard work.” This is the most famous quote from feminist poet Blythe Baird’s book, Give Me A God I Can Relate To.


In the Spoken Poetry industry, Blythe has left her mark as an influential spoken word poet. She was the youngest competitor in the National Poetry Slam in 2014. Her poetry collection discusses many issues, like eating disorders, mental health, feminism, gender and expression, and a lot more. Many of her poems are based on her experiences, like her suffering from ED and depression. To Blythe, poetry has greatly served as an outlet for her feelings, ideas, and struggles.

Blythe is an example of how art has become highly beneficial to people with mental health illnesses. Numerous findings have yielded promising results on the cognitive effect of creative expression. People find an outlet with art. It allows them to explore their creative soul, use their imagination, and improve their self-esteem. Because of these, art has become an integral part of mental health treatment approaches.

Art can take many forms. Blythe chose poetry. But you can also take up other forms such as painting, sculpting, pottery, digital art, theater, photography, and even music. If you are currently receiving counseling, you can raise the idea of complementing your talk therapy sessions with art therapy.

How Photography Helps With Mental Health Recovery

One of the most popular creative activities many counselors recommend nowadays is photography. A lot already do it because we live in the digital age, and it’s more common. Many people have it as a hobby, a pastime activity. Some work as photographers. But some use photography for its therapeutic benefits.


Photography is defined as the art of creating pictures with the use of a camera. With new technology emerging here and there, it is relatively easy for people to take photos. Back in the day, the most commonly used tool for photography was film cameras. But now, there are hundreds of different digital cameras readily available, including mirrorless cameras and sports action cameras. Even smartphones offer the convenience of having a camera feature for immediate photo-taking.

It may seem counterintuitive for your counselor to advise you to spend more of your time in front of your phone or camera, but research tells otherwise. Photography will allow you to maximize your time outdoors, finding hidden gems, exploring exciting things and interesting places. Spending your days out will significantly improve your psychological well-being as the sun is a natural mood booster. If you visit amazing sites and move around a lot, it will also serve as a physical exercise for you.

Through photography, you may also experience self-discovery, which is essential for your psychological welfare. You can render your thoughts and feelings in the form of pictures when words fail you. It is a healthy outlet to release your pent-up emotions and instead create meaningful art. There is a literal emotional release that helps you with stress relief as well.

Science also backs up studies suggesting how making art, like taking photos or drawing, can trigger your brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical often referred to as the “pleasure hormone.” Once dopamine is released into our body, it makes us feel happier.

Different Types Of Photography You May Try

There are different types of photography you can experiment with during your counseling. These varying types mainly depend on the subject being photographed, which you can relate to or help you relax.

Portrait Photography

Self-portraits, headshots, and pictures where the individual’s or group’s emotions are captured fall under portrait photography. It is one of the most popular types of photographs. Many people love portraiture as it shows raw emotion, focusing on the eyes. As they say, eyes are windows to the soul. It may be a good choice for you if you have a hard time showing your feelings.

Pet Photography

From the name itself, pet photography’s subject is pets. This type of photography may be ideal for you if you love pets. Animals are a big help in many people’s mental recovery. Animals are used in animal therapy—another well-known type of therapy available for mental disorders.


Food Photography

Some mental health sufferers turn to food for stress relief. Turning the stress eating into food photography is like hitting two birds with one stone.

Adventure Photography

The great outdoors is waiting for you to explore it. Going on an adventure will undoubtedly be great for your mental health. You can also meet people to go on a venture together. Having adventures and exploring the outdoors can give you a sense of freedom and openness to the world. It can also boost your social confidence, which would help your psychological well-being immensely. It would be best if you have as much fun and sun as you can.  So double up your travels by doing photography.

Ocean Photography

Perhaps seascape or ocean photography is what most people with mental illness will consider. The sea is already calming on its own, only watching the waves rise and fall. But with photography, you can explore the ocean so much more while also helping yourself mentally recover. You can also try sea diving and capture photos of marine life, such as corals and sea turtles.

Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is the opposite of ocean photography. From the name itself, the main focus of this type of photography is capturing lands. Like bodies of water, bodies of land appear calming to some people too.


You do not necessarily have to be good with arts to enjoy its benefits. Art is subjective. If you feel what you are creating is art, no one should tell you otherwise. Doing things that provide tranquility and clarity of mind can be very beneficial for your mental well-being.

Wait no further. Go forth and create art, whether through photography or not. Find an artistic outlet, relieve your feelings, and try to eliminate emotional roadblocks. Who knows? You might have a knack for creativity and discover a hidden talent of yours.