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Point, Click, Relax

Guided imagery goes on-line; expands hours

Claire Casselman
Claire Casselman

The first thing you notice about Claire Casselman is her voice. Always calm, always low. It sounds like navy blue: solid and reassuring, rich and full of depth.

It's the perfect voice for guided imagery, a technique that combines visualization with breathing exercises to foster relaxation, a sense of empowerment and positive changes for well-being. Casselman, who previously served as manager of social work services in the Cancer Center, is now focusing full time on helping people access their own internal resources for coping through guided imagery.

In addition to offering more one-on-one and group sessions, Casselman has developed a Cancer Center Web site to help people experience guided imagery at home.

"All people, in general, use some form of imagery without being aware of it, whether it's daydreaming or thinking about dinner and how good it'll taste," Casselman said. "It's a skill we use to help us get through an uncomfortable moment. With guided imagery, we focus on that skill and build an intention into our visualization to help us get to where we want to be emotionally."

Guided imagery has been shown to lower blood pressure, decrease stress hormones, help with chronic pain, enhance sleep, lessen side effects, boost the immune system and improve surgical recovery.

Typically, in a private session, Casselman talks with patients to learn about their worries, hopes and goals. For some, guided imagery is a tool to reduce overall anxiety; for others, it's a tool to be used in a specific situation -- for example, before the start of a procedure.

Casselman also talks with patients about what types of experiences or images appeal to them. It's different for everyone: Some prefer thoughts of lounging on the beach, while others would rather imagine themselves firing missiles into cancerous cells. From there, she develops customized scripts that she uses in sessions and also records onto CDs for home use. Each session begins with gentle breathing exercises to promote relaxation.

The new Web site features a library of guided imagery podcasts. Although they've been designed for people with cancer, each recording is broad enough to appeal to people at all stages of life and in all circumstances. The site also includes general information about the practice and benefits of guided imagery. The Cancer Center's Guided Imagery program is funded exclusively through the generous support of donors.

"Our goal is to show people that they are capable of achieving a peaceful calm, of controlling more of the situation and outcomes," Casselman said. "It's empowering. Once you've learned how to use imagery to clarify your goals, you can think of it as part of your tool kit for coping -- whether it's with cancer or some other challenge."

Try Guided Imagery for yourself!

If you are a University of Michigan Cancer Center patient, call 877-907-0859 to make an appointment.

You can also experiment with Guided Imagery at home:

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Thrive Issue: 
Fall, 2008