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By Nora Isaac for Alternative

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Page 2

Scientific Backup

A turning point for the medical community's interest in imagery occurred in the late '90s, with research that revolved around surgery: Time after time, studies showed that pre- and post-surgery patients who used imagery had a shorter than average length of stay and decrease in pain and anxiety, and they used fewer pain drugs. A few years later, a much-referenced Blue Shield of California study done with hysterectomy patients again showed shorter stays, less pain and a dramatic decrease in anxiety, but also another important finding-those who used imagery reduced the insurance company's bill by 14 percent.

"This was stunning; it totally turned me around," says Brad Larsen, a nurse anesthesiologist at Kaiser Permanente, Santa Rosa, Calif., who helped implement a groundbreaking guided-imagery program there. "This isn't just a minimal intervention-it's major and has a dramatic effect."

Cumulatively, these studies created a greater awareness, which led to the hundreds of studies being conducted today in areas that go far beyond pre-surgery patients. The most comprehensive studies concern anxiety, pain management and oncology, but research has been conducted on allergies, carpal tunnel syndrome, geriatric insomnia, herpes, hypertension, menopause and others. "Guided imagery research is making an entrance into conventional medical consciousness," Rossman says. "People are starting to think, 'Oh, this is a real thing,' even though the imagination is invisible and seems ethereal. After all, the imagination is probably the most powerful human function-skyscrapers, CAT scans, every single object that humanity has ever produced is because of imagery."

Beyond the hard facts, experts say imagery plays a crucial role in a medical setting by empowering patients to take charge of their health. Instead of being prodded by doctors and told what to do, patients can feel a sense of satisfaction by participating in their own healing. "The work with the imagery gave me a sense of agency," Pattillo says. "I can do it at home, and I'm really doing something that directly impacts my disease. It's not something I'm getting from a doctor. It's in me, for me and gives me some sense that I'm a participant in this. So it's empowering and encouraging in that way."

Models of care

Visionaries like Kaiser's Brad Larsen often start imagery programs in hospitals that have an interest in complementary medicine. After reading some of the scientific research, Larsen applied for a grant and used the money to buy CDs to hand out to surgery patients. Through word of mouth, patient surveys and implementation studies, the results astounded him: "Almost everyone said they would use it again or recommend it to a friend," he says. Recently, Larsen has championed the Preparing for Successful Surgery Program in which every patient is given a guided-imagery CD during a pre-operative visit. In fact, his group just secured funding for the program to expand throughout all Kaiser hospitals in northern California. At his hospital, imagery use extends beyond surgery: Patients who come into the hospital can simply check out a portable CD player and a guided-imagery CD for whatever condition they have, use it during their stay and return it before they go home.

Over at the California Pacific Medical Center's Health and Healing Center in San Francisco, Leslie Davenport, the former chaplain who is now the clinical education manager, conducts one-on-one imagery sessions with people like Gail Van Dyke. A few years back, after a directive from hospital administrators to "humanize medicine," Davenport secured funding for guided imagery to control pain, deal with anxiety, manage nausea and strengthen the immune system. As the demand grew, she eventually developed an internship program for students. Today, the Health and Healing Center has a yearlong training program and a team of eight students who specialize in imagery.

And as others begin to hear of guided imagery's successes, more and more people call existing programs for advice; Davenport gets so many inquiries that the center has set up a consultation service to help other institutions get programs started on their own turf.

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