Visualisation has received more and more coverage in recent years as top sportsmen look for something that will give them the edge. Could visualisation also be helpful for stress and anxiety?

How it works

Visualisation, or guided imagery, is often used in conjunction with relaxation techniques to relieve health problems and symptoms of stress. The idea behind visualisation is that the power of positive images, and controlling those images, will help relieve emotional and physical issues.

Therapists can teach patients how to visualise relaxing images. This can range from something as simple as an image of a beach to visualising oneself in a stronger physical state. The patient then uses these visualisation techniques when feeling stressed.

What it could help

Visualisation has been studied briefly for particular illnesses, but has little research evidence specifically in targeting stress. Reports into its use in conjunction with relaxation for particular illnesses such as breast cancer tend to have to been carried out on small groups in very specific situations.

There is a relatively strong body of personal accounts, however, and its reported effectiveness could be down to the personal nature of therapy, the practitioner’s soothing tone, and that visualisation can redirect thoughts away from problems. Visualisation is a well-known technique among sports people, who use it to think positively and visualise themselves achieving goals or winning.

What to expect

You can be trained in visualisation by a therapist or use an audio course, available online or in some bookshops for about £10.

A therapy session will usually take place in a private quiet room and the therapist should be trained to keep the patient relaxed. They will listen to your issues and then take you through a series of more useful and positive images you could think about. This could be anything from imagining a different environment to a personal change.

A common image is visualising oneself to be stronger and more resilient, and personal accounts have suggested this to be effective. Visualisation can also be useful in reframing situations which can trigger symptoms.

Find a therapist

There are no formal qualifications needed to become a visualisation therapist so it is important to check training and experience before committing and paying. Training in relaxation and guided imagery is possible but these are unregulated and unspecified.

Therapists qualified in meditation, colour therapy, hypnotherapy and relaxation may also incorporate visualisation techniques into sessions. You can contact registered organisations for these therapies and ask for more information – see the entries for the individual therapies.

Some nurses, psychotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists will also have training in the use of relaxation and visualisation techniques. The Complementary Medicine Association,, an umbrella members group, is another possible source of therapists.


The cost varies depending on symptoms and the therapist, but expect to pay from £30 for a session of visualisation and relaxation.

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