New Guided Imagery Research Looks Good for Smoking Cessation, Dialysis, Post-Op Pain, Sedation Alternatives for Kids, Motor Recovery for Stroke & Parkinsons, and Easing Phantom Limb Pain

Hello again.

I’ve been noticing a nice uptick in guided imagery research lately – both in terms of studies that explore its efficacy in new or renewed areas, such as smoking cessation, dialysis, and hospice care – and with the appearance of systematic reviews, a sure sign that enough trials have been published to warrant an overview.

In fact, new systematic reviews have gotten ink for post-op pain management, pediatric sedation alternatives, easing symptoms of heart failure, phantom limb pain, and for speeding recovery from stroke, Parkinson’s, and other kinds of functional gains in the rehab setting.

So, huzzah! This once beleaguered technique has come a long way since the 80’s. And it’s lovely to see it being studied, taken seriously, and garnishing more nuanced, targeted, and sophisticated findings. 

I want to mention just a couple for now. New studies led by Dr. Judith Gordon, using guided imagery in a smoking cessation app for women who were also struggling with weight issues, called See Me Smoke Free, got high attrition rates – 52% (not unusual, and not as high as some programs) but good success as well, in this 90 day, pre- and post comparison pilot study at the University of Arizona.

Of the initial 151 participants, 73 remained, and 47% of them reported 7-day abstinence and significant increases in physical activity and fruit consumption. In other words, about a quarter of the original bunch achieved the success they were looking for.1

This is remarkably similar to the outcomes from earlier smoking cessation/guided imagery studies - Christine Wynd’s 2005 research, used our guided imagery as an add-on to standard health education materials. The other arm of the study received only the health education materials.

The guided imagery arm got a 26% cessation rate, where the ‘treatment as usual’ controls got 12%. (It was later determined that those cessation rates held up over the next 24 months.2

So, given how hard it is to quit smoking, I’m thinking the guided imagery success rate of roughly a quarter of the initial subjects looks pretty darn good.

One of the systematic reviews on guided imagery and post-op pain, comes out of Brazil. Out of 291 published studies, eight were selected, highlighting the use of guided imagery with other integrative therapies, and ultimately landing on guided imagery with relaxation as a complementary approach to drug analgesia in postoperative pain in nursing practice. The authors did, however, state the need for more randomized, controlled trials to back up these findings.3 

Another review of the literature out of Italy examines “mental practice”, aka guided imagery, and mirror therapy, aka “action observation therapy” for Parkinson’s patients. It concludes that both bring positive effects to motor recovery for people with PD, and suggest studying the impact of combining them.4

I’ll stop now, before I put you all to sleep. But really, I could go on and on – there’s a lot here! So let me know if you have any interest in hearing more about guided imagery research.

All best,


1. Gordon JS, Armin J, et al. Development and evaluation of the See Me Smoke-Free multi-behavioral mHealth app for women smokers. Transl Behav Med. 2017 Jun;7(2):172-184. doi: 10.1007/s13142-017-0463-7

2. Wynd CA. Guided Health Imagery for Smoking Cessation and Long-Term Abstinence. J Nurs Scholarsh. 2005;37(3):245-50

3. Felix MMDS1, Ferreira MBG1, da Cruz LF1, Barbosa MH2. Relaxation Therapy with Guided Imagery for Postoperative Pain Management: An Integrative Review. Pain Manag Nurs. 2017 Dec 14. pii: S1524-9042(17)30344-2. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn. 2017.10.014

4. Caligiore D, Mustile M, Spalletta G, Baldassarre G. Action observation and motor imagery for rehabilitation in Parkinson’s Disease: A systematic review and an integrative hypothesis. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017 Jan;72:210-222. doi: 10.1016/ j.neubiorev.2016.11.005. Epub 2016 Nov 16