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January 2022

Imagery in Healing

Abstract: "Combining the practices of the earliest healers with the latest data from modern medicine, this comprehensive work shows how the systematic use of mental imagery can help patients through painful events such as childbirth and burn treatment, as well as act as a positive influence on disease states such as cancer."

Note: Achterberg identifies two types of healing imagery: (1) preverbal imagery, where images communicates with tissues and organs, “even cells, to effect a change”, (2) transpersonal imagery, “embodying the assumption that information can be transmitted from the consciousness of one person to the physical substrate of others.” (p. 5). Psychoneuroimmunological - quantitative - research has focused on the preverbal type, while the transpersonal type is only addressable within qualitative frameworks like phenomenology - and of course in clinical work. Most of Achterberg’s book is dealing with psychological aspects of ‘healing imagery’, but she also addresses neuroanatomy and physiology, based on a ‘simple’ definition: “Images, indeed al thoughts, are electrochemical events, which are intricately woven into the fabric of the brain and the body” (p. 9). The psychological understanding of imagery begins with the distinction between illness (the unique, personal experience of a pathological state) and disease (the pathology itself, as classified and described in diagnostic systems). Imagery affects the ‘illness level’ more than the ‘disease level’, but the way in which the body-mind works is still to a great extent a mystery. However, research within the immunological area comes up with encouraging results, showing how (behavioral) therapies based on imagination can influence immunology. In later volumes (Achterberg 1989,1994) she expands her theoretical models and clinical techniques.

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