Visualising Illness into Wellness

For several years now, I have been writing about, and teaching, a visualisation strategy of imagining illness turning into wellness. People often ask me how it works. I believe there’s a few things that contribute so I thought I’d briefly sketch out some of them in this blog.

1) Impact on the immune system
There’s a growing body of research that suggests that guided imagery elevates the immune system. Studies have shown positive changes in NK cells, neutrophils and lymphocytes, as well as in secretory immunoglobulin A, for example.

2) A person feels empowered rather than hopeless
Many people, when suffering from injury, illness or disease, feel a sense of hopelessness and that there isn’t anything they can do to facilitate their recovery. This can be stressful. Understanding that the mind impacts the body often gives people a sense of hope and a belief that they can, in fact, do something to help themselves, which can therefore reduce stress.

Thus, a consistent cultivation of hope or positive feeling might head a person in the direction of wellness just as a consistent experience of stress can have the opposite effect.

3) The impact of positive belief
The placebo effect is no longer viewed as just psychological. There is no question, now, that expectation and belief cause changes in the brain and body. The apparent limits of the placebo effect are now being explored and we’re learning that, to an extent, and depending upon the condition studied, the brain can create the chemistry it needs to create to give a person what they’re expecting to happen. Placebo pain relief comes, for example, because a person’s brain produces its own version of morphine.

4) Focusing of willpower
There’s a lot to be said for the impact of a will to live or a will to get better. Sometimes, it is the main ingredient some people need. It may not always produce seeming miracles, but it can certainly help.

5) The positive impact of repetitive visualising
I believe this plays a large role and suggests that neuroplasticity is taking place in the brain, which is where the brain undergoes physical changes. It takes consistency (repetition) to effect such change.

Essentially, the brain is ‘wiring in’ what a person is imagining taking place. It is well known to occur when a person visualises movement, for example, as in sports or rehabilitation. I personally believe, even though there is limited research on this, that the same kind of thing happens with visualisation to improve many other conditions.

Thus, repetitive visualisation might create physical change in the brain, which is accompanied by a physical change in the body, particularly in the region that a person’s attention is focused upon, but also in other systems of the body that are relevant to the change. There is some evidence that this might happen in the immune system.

In addition, visualisation studies show an increase in white blood cells over time as a person practices visualisation on a consistent basis. This might correlate with neuroplasticity in the brain, which also occurs over time.

6) Natural recovery or other positive factors
It’s also important to mention the natural course of something. Sometimes, a person might be on the road to recovery anyway. Visualisation might speed the process up or have little or no additional effect because the body is already doing what it needs to do.
Also, many people make lifestyle changes that positively impact their circumstances, which might involve changes in physical activity, diet, stress levels, change of environment, etc.

So, very briefly, this is what I believe is going on, or contributing, when a person uses visualisation techniques.

And please note, I’m certainly not suggesting that we use our minds instead of following medical advice, but that we use our minds in addition to medical advice. Many people, in fact, actually visualise their medicines doing the desired job.Β Some people receiving chemotherapy for cancer, for example, have visualised the chemo drugs as piranha fish or Pac men nibbling the tumour so that, in their imagination, the tumour (or tumours) is getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

I’m currently working on the 10-Year Anniversary Edition of my book, ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’. I intend to include several new examples of the use of visualisation in this edition, as I did in the 1st Edition. If you have personally used visualisation as part of your recovery from injury, illness, or disease, and would like your visualisation story to be considered for the book, please email me on [email protected] Please include what you visualised, how often you visualised, and what the outcome was. Thanks. πŸ™‚

5 thoughts on “Visualising Illness into Wellness

  1. Karen Stanley

    Could please ask would this Help with a stroke patient thank you Karen Stanley

  2. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Hi Karen, There’s been some research into the successful use of visualisation for Stroke patients. The key was the repetitive imagination of movement of the impaired limbs. Typically, a visualisation session might last 30-60 minutes and be done 3 or 4 times a week – almost as if it were a mental physiotherapy session; not instead of physiotherapy, but IN ADDITION to physiotherapy. Here’s a few scientific papers on it:

    S. J. Page, et al, ‘Mental Practice in Chronic Stroke: Results of a randomised, placebo-controlled trial’, Stroke, 2007, 38(4), 1293-1297


    A. Y. Kho, et al, ‘Meta-Analysis on the effect of mental imagery on motor recovery of the hemiplegic upper extremity function’, Australian Occupational Therapy Journal’, 2014, 61(2), 38-44

    The latter paper is a summary of all the research that has been done and recommends mental imagery as a “viable, safe, cost-effective intervention and rendering multiple and unlimited practice opportunities.”

    I hope that helps. πŸ™‚

  3. plumesdanges

    Thanks Hon πŸ™‚

  4. Hello
    I used creative visualization while going through chemotherapy and radiation for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As well as to manage the variety of daily side effects and post treatment neuropathy. Sparkles were my visual tool and I had fun with it. Creating different scenarios to visualize healing and using sparkles in various forms to guide the chemo to the cells while protecting healthy cells. Visualizing the mass in my chest as a large orange and shrinking to a mandarin and finally a tiny wild blueberry. During radiation I switched up the visualization to 5 green beams and using sparkle shields to protect my vital organs. My inner child enjoyed the creative visualization.

    During my illness and treatment I did no internet searches. Instead I did what came naturally to me, which was listening to my body, frequent visualization scenarios, and being mindful of words and thoughts.

    Thank you so very much for this post. It’s affirming to know that my intuition was guiding me in a beautiful way. πŸ™‚

  5. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Thanks Cynthia. This is such a lovely visualisation. Thanks for posting. πŸ™‚

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *