All guided imagery sessions will be different, depending on the practitioner, the individual, and the intentions of the practice. It’s always a good idea to try a range of options (like audio recordings or apps, and qualified healthcare professionals) to an approach that you feel like you connect with. Also, knowing what may happen ahead of time can set your expectations appropriately so you’re more likely to find success with the practice.

Here are a few tips to prepare:

Get Comfortable

If you are doing this in your home, find a cozy, quiet space free of distractions. If you’re in a medical setting, do what you need to do to get as comfortable as you can (such as asking for a blanket). Begin to take slow, deep breaths.

Find Your Place

“Often in a session, you’ll be invited to think about a place you enjoy that feels relaxing,” says Kreitzer. That may be a mountain, a beach, a forest, or even your grandma’s kitchen. Your imagination is limitless, and as long as this place invokes inner peace, there are no wrong answers.

Go On a Journey

You’ll be guided through that place in a very detailed way, tapping into all of your senses, including what you’re “seeing,” “feeling,” “smelling,” and “hearing.” Again, it’s not about right or wrong, so try not to overthink it. The important thing is to invoke all five sensory responses to transport yourself, via your imagination, to this peaceful place.

If you’re doing trauma work, the therapist will likely ask you to get extremely detailed with this calming place, perhaps having you write down details or rehearsing it, says Huttar. That will be paired with a safe space image. “When in a trauma narrative, we [may be able to help] calm people down by reintegrating their breathing and going back to this peaceful, imaginative space,” he says. (A resource video from the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine explains how this might work.)

Feel Your Body Relax

Because our mind doesn’t differentiate the real from the imagined, says Kreitzer, this comforting setting should provoke your body’s relaxation response, where your heart rate begins to slow, blood pressure decreases, and breathing slows.

Experience Less Stress Later

You’ll ideally likely leave the session feeling more relaxed, and regular practice may deliver longer-lasting benefits. “With practice, it [may] help reset your tension, stress, and anxiety levels,” says Rossman. If you’re doing guided imagery as part of therapy, the time it takes to see benefits varies depending on what you’re seeking treatment for, he adds.

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