Guided imagery is the use of visualizations, words, and/or music to evoke positive images in order to benefit a person. Guided imagery is more than just visualizing something you want or imagining things a different way; it is a process of using the connection between body and mind to bring about positive changes in yourself. The practice of guided imagery may be useful in treating depression.

How Guided Imagery Works

Similar to meditation, guided imagery involves entering into a calm, peaceful state of mind. Unlike meditation, your concentration is guided, usually by an instructor or audio recording. The guide directs your concentration to a specific image.

The goal of guided imagery is to use the mind to create desired effects in the body, such as a calming, energizing, or releasing negative emotions. It exercises the right side of the brain, which controls creativity, spatial abilities, and more. The practice allows your critical-thinking senses to relax so the emotional ones can do work.  

Guided imagery can help with depression by actively combating negative thoughts and emotions and replacing them with positive imagery. For example, a common feeling among people with depression is alienation. During guided imagery, a person can visualize being surrounded by loved ones. Feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem can be replaced with images of moments of congratulation for a job well done.

Pros of Guided Imagery

Guided imagery is a proactive way to deal with negative thoughts and feelings. It’s also effective in relieving potential symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, stress, and anxiety. Guided imagery sessions can be brief, which make them easy to incorporate into hectic schedules. Guided imagery can also be used immediately to handle bits of everyday stress that have the potential to expand into something larger.

Cons of Guided Imagery

Guided imagery may be suitable for people with short-term or mild depression, but it is no replacement for medication, psychotherapy, and other treatments for people with moderate, severe, or chronic depression.

There is little to no clinical research to support the efficacy of guided imagery as a treatment for depression. But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from people who have used guided imagery as a complement to more traditional depression treatments.

What the Experts Say

Dr. Mason Turner, Chief of Psychiatry, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, said guided imagery falls under the same umbrella as meditation, but takes it to the next psychological level. Because guided imagery can bring up some difficult images, people need to tread lightly with this treatment.

“It is powerful because it can unlock hidden psychological problems than can lead to depression,” Dr. Turner said. “It has to be used with some care.”