Raising Pain Tolerance Using Guided Imagery


To me, the term “guided imagery” means someone else is in the room with you.  Someone else is guiding your thoughts, telling you what to think or imagine.  And that reminds me of hypnosis, which I tried through a psychiatrist. But you have to be able to trust the person who’s trying to hypnotize you, or you won’t be able to relax.  So I’ve researched and practiced self-hypnosis, but it appears that I don’t trust myself either, because I can’t get it to work.  I want to be able to hypnotize myself to sleep, but my insomnia (I mean, my brain) won’t let me.

But if you remove the “guide” from the imagery, what you’re left with is visualization — and that’s something I use every day.  It’s something I learned as a gymnast, to mentally picture myself performing a trick or routine over and over again, before I even attempt it.  When you’re in the air, you don’t have time to be thinking about what to do — your body just has to do it.  So you need your mind to subconsciously know the moves you’re about to make before you make them, or you’ll be prone to injuries.

As a pain patient, I now use visualization prior to performing daily tasks, like scrubbing toilets, taking a shower, or running errands.  I picture everything I have to do before the task is complete, and then all the additional things I will have to do to compensate for how much pain I’m in, before, during, and after.  For me, it’s like making a list, although my pain doesn’t always allow me to complete the list.  (Flexibility is important for every pain patient, but sometimes impatience can get in the way.  In other words, you’ll need to learn how to chill if you want to learn how to be flexible.)

I’ve tried visualization exercises that involve a beach or some perfect place or image — even just a single color. But I don’t “see” these images. All I “see” when I do these types of mental exercises is the blackness behind my closed eyelids.  I think it’s my brain’s inability to be creative and imaginative that keeps me from learning these techniques, which is what the “art and awe therapy” is for — to strengthen that part of my brain that will give me the ability to distract myself from the constant pain.  Of course, it’s also the pain that is blocking this area of my brain.

I know visualization and imagery may sound a little mystical to some pain patients. And it’s not like either one can make the constant pain go away.  What these exercises can accomplish is to exercise your brain, especially the areas that the pain is messing with.

If you’re currently using drug therapy to treat your pain, the drugs are doing this kind of work for you — mostly because the pain can keep you from doing the work yourself.  For a pain patient, drugs can reduce the brain’s attention on your suffering, so you can focus on more important things.

Unfortunately, visualization and hypnosis are not easy to learn or practice.  It may help to do these exercises while doing yoga, biofeedback, or listening to music, but every patient has to create the exercises and treatment program that works best for them.  And then be flexible and chill enough to change it whenever needed.  As I’ve said before:


Voices of patients


FEBRUARY 11, 2015 AT 6:26 PM
Thank you for this article; it has further opened my eyes to something that I have felt distantly for some time but was unwilling to accept as even possible until last night, when I read about the suicide of Shirley Jansen. Here is a link to that article from the DM:


I am currently somewhat stuck in the 12-step “recovery” world of south Florida currently, and have never felt more trapped and hopeless. I received treatments for depression before, when I was 17-18 and self injuring. I feel like that helped me quite a bit. Everything changes though, with the “addict” label. I sought help in the summer of 2013 believing naively that I could be treated for depression, figuring it would reduce my need to daily self-medicate with alcohol. Instead it became a cycle going on two years now during which my depression has gotten progressively worse, I feel.

The argument I sometimes hear is that “the addiction must be treated before anything else”. What this seems to mean is that I can no longer be treated at all like a “normal” mentally ill patient: I am just an “addict” and depression and suicidal inclination is proof I am not working a through, “honest” program. Which, admittedly, I am not. I do not feel free to honestly express how I am feeling, most of the time, to these addiction-focused therapists and counselors.

The harshest part of the whole little world down here is the halfway-house aspect. The fear of being kicked out on the street at a moments notice on the whim of some manager is intensely frightening.

The regular 12-step community, the meetings and the “fellowships” proper, increasingly also feel like nothing but large echo-chambers… or as we say on “web 2.0″, circle-jerks. I feel it is worse in this area than it was in NJ due, in part, to the influence of having so many drug-treatment facilities and outpatient programs down here.

I do think the 12-Step programs do work for some people: I do see evidence of it. But the theme of “shared experience” is grossly overemphasized. Some people can honestly say “My worst day clean is better than my best day using”… But I wont say that.

Anyway, again, thank you for opening my mind up a bit.