Interactive Guided Imagery(SM) (IGISM) is a specific type of guided imagery (a practice relying on visualization) overseen by the Academy for Guided Imagery. Guided imagery and IGISM have been shown to be useful in treating a variety of physical and mental health issues, and have also been shown to be useful for generally increasing well-being.
This article will cover what IGISM is, how it differs from (non-interactive) guided imagery, some of the techniques used in IGISM, and why visualization is a helpful therapeutic process in general. Finally, this article will cover some scripts one can use for guided imagery, as well as other valuable resources for an imagery practice, such as music. As always, however, we must define Interactive Guided Imagery(SM) before we can begin discussing it further.
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What Is Interactive Guided Imagery: A Definition
To put it simply, Interactive Guided ImagerySM is the interactive version of guided imagery therapy, a type of cognitive therapy that will be further discussed in the next section. For an example of IGISM, according to the Academy for Guided Imagery (AGI),
“a client can be asked to close her eyes and allow her mind to prompt a picture that symbolizes her problem. Using IGISM techniques, the client may then be guided in an imaginary dialogue with this image to explore and reveal its meaning and relevance to her problem or issue”.
In other words, IGISM is a visualization technique used in therapy that targets a person’s unconscious thoughts about their problems so that they can better understand these thoughts and potentially change them.
In case you are wondering, the superscript “SM” after “Interactive Guided Imagery” is a “service mark” that “denotes that these terms refer to a legally registered process that is owned by the Academy for Guided Imagery” (Academy for Guided Imagery). That is, the superscript “SM” serves as a certification so that clients know that their guides have been properly trained in the technique.
To put it all together, IGISM refers to a specific interactive guided visualization technique overseen by the Academy for Guided Imagery that is used for the reduction of both physical and mental health symptoms.
Traditional Guided Imagery VS Interactive Guided Imagery
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, in guided imagery:
“people are taught to focus on pleasant images to replace negative or stressful feelings. Guided imagery may be self-directed or led by a practitioner or a recording”.
This second sentence distinguishes guided imagery from interactive guided imagery, as interactive guided imagery cannot be led by a recording. This is because interactive guided imagery does not follow a rigid script, but is instead an intensely personal experience which depends on the person following the technique.
Guided imagery is undoubtedly a useful exercise, but IGISM is viable for a larger group of people, since some people might have trouble with visualization, as their “shock and anxiety may prevent them from being able to focus on strengths without professional support and guidance” (Rossman, 2002).
That is, while guided imagery may be just as beneficial as IGISM for some people, it may also be harder for other people to successfully visualize without any experience, particularly in self-directed guided imagery. In other words, IGISM may be a more accessible treatment than guided imagery alone, in one sense. Of course, guided imagery is more accessible in another sense, as one can complete a guided imagery session by themselves with a recording.
Why Visualization In Therapy Can Be Useful
IGISM could be beneficial for a number of reasons. One study examined patient perceptions of IGISM and found that patients who had experienced IGISM found it to be beneficial in a variety of ways (Scherwitz et al., 2005). Patients reported that IGISM helped them feel safe, seen and understood, that IGISM helped them relax, and that IGISM even helped them better understand their health problems as well as themselves.
For all of these reasons, patients reported that IGISM led to reduced anxiety, depression, and other symptoms specific to their health issues, and patients also reported that IGISM helped them feel wiser.
This wide range of positive feelings stemming from IGISM showcases the benefits of visualization in therapy. Since visualization is necessarily a personalized technique, it may serve to give patients a sense of control over their treatment. Indeed, a study of IGISM concluded that “[c]lients using IGI do not have something done to them; they live an experience (Heinschel, 2002).
Since IGISM follows a flexible path determined by the patient’s visualizations, it also means that the therapist must truly listen to their patient, which could improve the patient’s feelings about their relationship with their therapist.
Aside from the specifics of IGISM, visualization is a powerful technique because it strengthens the mind-body connection. For an example, let us consider the practice of motor imagery. Motor imagery, more specifically called kinesthetic imagery, is when someone visualizes themselves performing an action without physically performing that action.
Motor imagery has been shown to improve athletic performance, musical performance, and even muscle strength (Jones & Viamonte, 2010). These benefits clearly show that visualization taps into the mind-body connection, and help explain why IGISM is often used successfully in cases of physical disease, such as cancer or obesity (Rossman, 2002; Weigensberg et al., 2009).
10 Interactive Guided Imagery Techniques
Now that you know what IGISM is and how it differs from traditional guided imagery, as well as the power of visualization in general, you might be wondering what it looks like in practice. Here are ten different techniques used in IGISM. Some of these are for health problems while some are for emotional issues stemming from health problems (or vice-versa), but they all help paint a clearer picture of what an IGISM session looks like.
The simplest technique used in IGISM is just visualizing one’s problem. For example, one cancer patient who had undergone eight months of chemotherapy with no improvement was asked to visualize the first thing that came to mind when she thought about her cancer (Rancour, 1994). This patient visualized a game show where her cancer cells would steal people’s winnings, and then hide when chemotherapy came about. Through IGISM, she was able to reconcile some feelings of helplessness.
For a study examining IGISM in obese Latino adolescents, the first few sessions focused on stress reduction imagery, such as visualizing a “relaxed place”, as well as breathing and muscle relaxation (Weigensberg et al., 2014). The next session focused on images of hunger and fullness.
Other sessions included the participants visualizing themselves eating healthy and being physically active, and still other sessions involved the participants visualizing a dialogue with an “Inner Advisor” who tried to help them understand healthy lifestyle choices and reasons to try them. Other sessions involved a dialogue with an “Inner Warrior”, a modified version of the Inner Advisor who was strong and self-confident.
Finally, the last sessions involved the participants visualizing what their life would be like if they did follow these healthy lifestyle changes. These techniques (after the first few) are all clearly aimed at treating obesity, which shows the personal nature of IGISM.
Other IGISM techniques come from a paper presenting case studies of IGISM (Rossman, 2002). One woman (a skier) facing cancer treatment visualized herself skiing down a hill, with all the obstacles and turns that involved, as a metaphor for her cancer treatment. IGISM does not always rely on hypothetical visualizations, however.
For example, one woman who felt she lacked the strength to fight cancer visualized herself, twenty years earlier, when her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. This woman felt that she was courageous at that moment, and used the visualization of this past event to gather up strength and courage in the present. This underscores how IGISM, and visualization in general, can help people find out or remember things about themselves that have always been present but hidden.
IGISM can also be useful for people who have successfully used (simple, non-interactive) imagery in the past but who no longer find success with simply imagery techniques. For example, someone who used to relieve asthma symptoms by visualizing their bronchial tubes opening up stopped having success with this tactic (Academy for Guided Imagery ). Through IGISM, they were able to visualize their asthma as a soldier who was “guarding” them from heartbreak, leading to the patient’s asthma flaring up in intimate situations. This led the patient to better understand his asthma and the connection between his lungs and his mind.
A similar case involved a patient who struggled with peptic ulcers (Academy for Guided Imagery ). The patient used to imagine the pain from his ulcers as a fire in his stomach, which he would relieve by visualizing a cold mountain stream extinguishing that fire. Once this visualization stopped helping the pain, the patient learned through IGISM that he had a number of unresolved emotional issues that he had been hiding away. This case shows that imagery can help physical symptoms, but that IGISM can reach deeper levels of understanding and help the underlying problems behind those physical symptoms.
40+ Scripts For Guided Imagery
In general, IGISM cannot really follow a script or be self-directed, as it requires a trained guide to walk a participant through a session. Here are some scripts for (non-interactive) guided imagery, however. Not all of these scripts are recorded, and since it is hard to read along to a script while attempting to visualize, one can either record themselves reading the script and use that recording as an audio guide, or one can also have a friend read the script to them while they visualize.
This is a guided imagery script that aims to help one relax by visualizing walking through a forest.
Guided Imagery Script
This is a guided imagery script for a short session that mostly aims to help one relax and release muscle tension.
The Private Garden
This guided imagery script, focusing on a private, comfortable garden, also includes a quick description of why visualization and guided imagery can be useful.
Scripts from Dr. Martin L. Rossman
This link starts with Dr. Rossman (cited in the above section on IGISM) discussing guided imagery and some of its benefits, then links to three guided imagery scripts by Dr. Rossman.
Visualization Scripts from Inner Health Studio
This collection of 26 visualization scripts covers general relaxation, but also includes scripts for overcoming shyness, nightmares, and even flying-triggered panic attacks. Some (but not all) of these scripts are available as free audio recordings, available here. Downloading one of those audio scripts is $3, but they can be listened to without downloading for free.
Guided Imagery Audio Library from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center
This is a collection of 12 guided imagery audio sessions ranging from under two minutes to half an hour, as well as the transcripts of these sessions.
Guided Imagery Self Help: Meditation & Music
Music and guided imagery have been successfully combined in a therapeutic setting, as a Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) intervention has been shown to be effective in reducing work-related stress in people on sick leave (Beck et al., 2015). Similarly, meditation and guided imagery have been successfully combined in a therapeutic setting as well, as a Central Meditation and Imagery Therapy for Caretakers (CMIT-C) developed for the treatment of dementia caregivers led to reduced levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and insomnia, and increased levels of mindfulness (Jain et al., 2014).
These two studies show that guided imagery can be enhanced by either music or meditation. In fact, some guided imagery sessions will feel much like meditation to people with established mindfulness practices.
Blissful Mind Meditation
This is a guided imagery meditation script that focuses on nature-based imagery. For those who like to listen along rather than read along, this script is available as an audio file complete with music. That file can be downloaded for free here, though signing up for the website’s email list is required before downloading.
Dartmouth Student Wellness Center Relaxation Downloads
This collection, from the Dartmouth Student Wellness Center, has all sorts of relaxation resources, from guided imagery sessions (some with backing music, some without), to mindfulness meditation exercises, to relaxing instrumental music. This wide variety of resources should fit into whatever sort of imagery practice one is looking to establish. For example, one could combine a separate imagery script with some of the backing music here, one could combine a guided imagery exercise with a mindfulness meditation exercise, or one could just try out one of the guided imagery exercises to see if it is the right thing for them.
A Take Home Message
The power of visualization underscores the mind-body connection that some fields of medicine have traditionally ignored. Guided imagery and Interactive Guided Imagery(SM) are two types of visualization that can help people relieve physical and emotional pain in their lives, as well as increase their levels of well-being. These two therapeutic treatments can be particularly helpful for people who have not found success with traditional medicine or traditional therapy.
One reason that visualization can be so successful is that it can help us uncover unconscious or repressed truths about ourselves. While we may have good reasons for hiding (or not seeking) these truths, doing so can manifest in psychologically and physically unhealthy ways. At the end of the day, the simple act of talking about/thinking about our problems, or simply seeking out help, can be the best decision we can make for our health.
- Academy for Guided Imagery.  (u.d.). What is IGISM?. Retrieved from http://acadgi.com/about_sitemap/what_is_igi/.
- Academy for Guided Imagery.  (u.d.). Jason, 24 - Case Study 5. Retrieved from http://www.acadgi.com/about_sitemap/what_is_igi/casestudies/styled-68/
- Academy for Guided Imagery.  (u.d.). Jeffrey, 30s - Case Study 3. Retrieved from http://www.acadgi.com/about_sitemap/what_is_igi/casestudies/styled-66/
- Beck, B.D., Hansen, A.M., Gold, C. (2015). Coping with Work-Related Stress through Guided Imagery and Music (GIM): Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Music Therapy, 52(3), 323-352. doi:10.1093/jmt/thv011
- Heinschel, J.A. (2002). A descriptive study of the interactive guided imagery experience. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 20(4), 325-346. doi:10.1177/089801002237591
- Jain, F.A., Nazarian, N., Lavretsky, H. (2014). Feasibility of Central Meditation and Imagery Therapy for dementia caregivers. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 29(8), 870-876. doi:10.1002/gps.4076
- Jones, L., Viamontes, G.I. (2010). Practical Applications of Mind-Body Phenomena: The Modulation of Motor Performance by Action Visualization. Psychiatric Annals, 40(8), 381-387. doi:10.3928/00485713-20100804-04
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2017, April 20). Relaxation Techniques for Health. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/stress/relaxation.htm.
- Rancour, P. (1994). Interactive guided imagery with oncology patients. A case illustration. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 12(2), 148-154. doi:10.1177/089801019401200205
- Rossman, M.L. (2002). Interactive Guided Imagery as a way to access patient strengths during cancer treatment. Integrative Cancer Therapies, 1(2), 162-165. doi:10.1177/1534735402001002007
- Scherwitz, L.W., McHenry, P., Herrero, R. (2005). Interactive guided imagery(SM) therapy with medical patients: Predictors of health outcomes. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11(1), 69-83. doi:10.1089/acm.2005.11.69
- Weigensberg, M.J., Lane, C.J., Avila, Q., Konersman, K., Ventura, E., Adam, T., Shoar, Z., Goran, M.I., Spruijt-Metz, D. (2014). Imagine HEALTH: results from a randomized pilot lifestyle intervention for obese Latino adolescents using Interactive Guided Imagery(SM). BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 14(1), 28. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-28
- Weigensberg, M.J., Lane, C.J., Winners, O., Wright, T., Nguyen-Rodriguez, S., Goran, M.I., Spruijt-Metz, D. (2009). Acute Effects of Stress-Reduction Interactive Guided Imagery(SM) on Salivary Cortisol in Overweight Latino Adolescents. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(3), 297-303. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0156