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By Nora Isaac for Alternative

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Page 3

Going mainstream

Until recently, nurses, social workers and pastors have been the champions of imagery's cause. "We are still in a stage where most doctors aren't aware of the research," Rossman says, "partly because there hasn't been a product to sell. If a drug company had a pill for what guided imagery did in surgery, they would've put $40 million into an advertising campaign."

Although it hasn't reached critical mass, some doctors-like the well-known cardio thoracic surgeon Mehmet Oz, at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York who gives imagery to his patients-have created large pockets of interest. "We had to tread carefully in the early days, but it's much more open [now], and there is a lot more support," Davenport says. "Patients have been educating their physicians about its successes."

Indeed, word of mouth has created a kind of tipping point for doctors with regard to imagery. The fact that hospitals and medical centers are using guided imagery is also a big step. But the interest from health insurance companies like Blue Shield-as well as the big pharmaceutical companies-is simply groundbreaking. With studies showing that imagery saves money, has no clinical risk and can be administered without a practitioner, companies like Blue Shield of California have fully embraced the idea. In June 2000, Blue Shield launched a Pre-Surgery Guided Imagery Program for members pre-approved for major surgery-the first health plan to develop a comprehensive program like it.

"I was worried it would be perceived as too 'new agey' for a traditional insurance company," says Dana Davies, a consultant for new-product development at Blue Shield. "But we were surprised at the strong body of literature indicating the efficacy of guided imagery for surgery." After she gave a big presentation to hospital administration, "there was really no resistance, so we decided to launch the program," she says.

Today the program includes guided imagery for any surgery patient who wants it; they can download CDs from the Blue Shield website. "This type of intervention is ideal for an insurance company," Davies says. The benefit is that the people most appropriate for guided imagery are targeted and told the CDs are available. Following suit, several other carriers, like Aetna, U.S. Healthcare and the U.S. Veteran's Administration, are now adding guided imagery to their programs. Pharmaceutical companies such as Amgen, GlaxoSmithKline, Ortho Biotech and Roche are also offering imagery CDs for a variety of conditions.

Future thinking

The consensus is clear: Guided imagery is here to stay. "It's not a little niche thing now; it's what everyone is exploring and thinking about," Larsen says. "How can you ignore the mind-body connection and the powerful effect that imagery has on the body? This is going to become more and more mainstream."

So far, it's been a win-win situation for everybody. Patients are happy. Hospitals improve patient care. Insurance companies save money. For Gail Van Dyke, her cancer is now behind her. Although it's impossible to say guided imagery cured her cancer, it has helped her emotionally and psychologically. "I know that no matter what comes up, I'm OK and I can deal with it," says Van Dyke, who also used imagery to prepare for knee replacement surgery. "It gives you a strength you didn't know you had. Not only do you get more relaxed and centered, your own inner wisdom comes to the surface."

Imagery advocates feel optimistic that the word will continue to spread: "In 10 years, I hope everybody takes guided imagery for granted," Rossman says. "I hope that doctors don't just reach for the prescription pad. Or if they do, they write this: 'Practice guided imagery three times a day and come back.' I think there is a good potential for that happening."

Nora Isaacs is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.

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