Belleruth Naparstek is a psychotherapist who advocates guided imagery as a tool to relieve stress, grief, depression, and other conditions. She's worked with survivors of
the Columbine tragedy, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the World Trade Center attack. The cofounder of Health Journeys (www.healthjourneys.com), a company that produces guided imagery audiotapes and CDs, Naparstek is also the author, most recently, of Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam, 2004).
YJ: What creates the most stress in the people you treat?
BN: People are just assaulted by modern life. There is information overload, and people are crunched, timewise. Technology has made it worse instead of better. Take the psychology of having a cell phone and e-mail available to you all the time—you are always checking; your ear is always cocked to see who might be calling. You become hooked on your own adrenaline.
YJ: Why do you suggest using imagery for stress relief?
BN: Basically, for the chronically stressed or anxious person, words are a trap. We tell ourselves the same story over and over again, which isn't useful. But when you start working with the imagination, you automatically start producing metaphors, symbols, and all kinds of ways to sidestep those thinking traps.
YJ: What are the physical effects of imagery?
BN: Guided imagery has been shown to rebalance cortisol [a hormone in the body that's associated with stress] for hours. It retrains
the body to get back into biochemical balance. Imagery provides the right brain with nonverbal oblique messages of reassurance and safety. It seduces you with moderately compelling images and multisensory ideas. It distracts the thinking brain from its obsessive list of worries.
YJ: Can you give an example of how it works?
BN: It provides distance from whatever is making you crazy. If you are really obsessed over some stressful situation, you can use imagery to put it on a TV screen and then pick up the remote, take the color away, and shut the thing off. You can float it away on a balloon or a cloud, or take out a shoe box in your mind, put it in the box, and wrap it up. Then you can go on with your life and deal with it later, when you are ready for it. Imagery is truly an intervention that you can do anywhere, any way you want. Nobody can take it away.