• Julie Martin

What is Integrative Imagery?

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

"Integrative Imagery" is a new name for a type of guided imagery that I developed when I worked in a children's hospital. Let me describe what it is by telling you a story based on my work with several patients. We'll call this composite patient, "Antoni."

Imagine "Antoni," a teenager with a condition from birth that caused chronic pain and required multiple surgeries over the course of his life. Music Therapy had become a standard referral for him because it was an effective treatment for his chronic and surgical pain over the course of multiple hospitalizations.

One day during his Music Therapy session, Antoni said that he had had enough with the pain medications when I asked, "What's the hardest part about this hospitalization?" The doses were high and he was concerned that the pain would continue to require even higher doses to bring it under control. Antoni wanted to live life with a clear mind as he was still in high school. At the next session which was a day after another surgery, I offered a "what if?" Knowing that the mind has a powerful influence over the body and that getting control over one's pain is empowering, I suggested a guided imagery session where, in his mind's eye, Antoni would imagine a physical representation of the pain and a physical representation of a "comfort object." Because he had already experienced guided relaxation for the body and visualization of a "safe place" that served to ease pain and refocus attention away from the pain, Antoni were open to trying something new. "The difference," I explained, "is that this time you will meet your pain where it is and visualize changing it into something that is comforting, peaceful, and the opposite of painful." Because Antoni had trust in the therapeutic relationship, he wanted to try it. By answering a few questions, Antoni gave sensory details of both the pain object and the comfort object. Starting with gentle recorded music and giving cues for relaxing the muscles and the mind, I began the intervention.

Observing his relaxed state and response to cues for deep breathing, I shifted the music to a piece that created some tension. I began to guide him to first seeing the pain object from a distance, then approaching it, then experiencing it with each of the sensory descriptions he had given in our preparation. Watching Antoni's face, I could see from a slight tightening of the expression that he was connected to this pain, and it was time to begin the transformation to comfort.

As the story of the transformation unfolded, the pain object, a large greyish boulder with heat radiating from a glistening surface and filling the air with a buzzing sound, began to quiet, shrink, cool, and become white. As the music changed again to an uplifting, peaceful piano melody, the boulder continued to transform as it began to float and flatten. The dense stone became wispy and soft. Antoni was led to visualize placing his hand under it and absorbing the comfort of a beautiful white feather, sense by sense. Antoni had wanted to imagine the feather floating away and was led to do so. Before bringing his awareness back to the chair, the room, and where that room was, I encouraged him to hold onto this feeling of comfort, and I reminded him that this imagery was his to use any time it was needed.

When we completed the intervention, I asked Antoni to rate his pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain. The initial rating of the pain had been 3-4. The reply? "It's almost gone."

While not everyone who has received this intervention has experienced almost complete resolution of symptoms, most have reported feeling better. But, what makes this integration technique special in my career is how it seems to boost a sense of control over what each person is experiencing: physical symptoms as well as emotional and psychological symptoms of illness or injury.

This technique reminds me of a quote I heard a guest on a radio program say: "Consolation of the imagination is not imaginary consolation."

To schedule an appointment for an Integrative Imagery session: www.pensacolamusictherapy.com/contact

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