When medicine isn’t enough, use your imagination

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© Ian Hooton/Science Photo Library/Corbis

© Ian Hooton/Science Photo Library/Corbis

Children with persistent abdominal pain were able to find some relief through a novel technique that recruited their imaginations, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. Of the study participants, half regularly listened to recordings that instructed them to imagine themselves floating on a cloud, for example, while the other half were treated with the current standard of care. The results: patients who enlisted the help of their imaginations were far more likely to report a reduction in pain.

Pediatricians at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University Medical Center enlisted 34 children between the ages of 6 and 15 who had been diagnosed with gastrointestinal disorders that caused them consistent discomfort. Of those, 29 patients finished the two-month long study, during which roughly half (15) participated in “guided imagery” sessions, in addition to receiving the standard care provided to both groups.

Children in the study group did 10-minute sessions daily, and 20-minute sessions every other week, in which they were prompted by audio recordings on CDs to imagine different scenarios which might help ease their pain—conjuring the image of a shiny object, letting it melt into their hand, and then placing that hand on their stomach to diffuse the protective power across their tummies, for example. At the end of the study, 73.3% of kids in the trial group reported a significant reduction in pain, compared to just 26.7% in the control group. Across both groups, two thirds of patients still had significantly less pain six months later as well.

The findings are particularly promising, the researchers say, because this type of treatment is so inexpensive and easy to administer—requiring little more than a CD player and an active imagination.

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