Treatments for MS that fall outside of conventional medicine are often considered complementary or alternative therapies. Guided imagery is an integrative mind-body therapy that has demonstrated the ability to reduce pain, stress, anxiety, and depression in patients dealing with a variety of disorders. While patients look to integrative medicine to help improve their lives, it is important that research is conducted to demonstrate the benefit of specific interventions, especially those used within the MS communities.
Paula Marie Jackson, diagnosed with MS in 1999, is a certified hypnotherapist who has developed a novel guided imagery protocol for MS patients she calls Healing Light Guided Imagery (HLGI). Ms. Jackson collaborated with researchers from the MS Center at University of California San Diego (UCSD) and the Center of Excellence for Research in Training in Integrative Health to conduct a small self-funded pilot study comparing the effects of HLGI and those of journaling on quality of life, fatigue, and depressed mood in 11 MS patients.
What is Healing Light Guided Imagery (HLGI) and how does it differ from other forms of guided imagery, meditation, or hypnosis?
PMJ: Healing Light Guided Imagery (HLGI) is a hybrid therapy combining meditation, mindfulness, and light hypnosis that I began to develop during my own MS diagnosis. As I trained, practiced, and worked to improve this hybrid technique, I found an optimal framework that worked wonders with most of my symptoms and was effective in helping others living with MS. The researchers at UCSD have been referring to it as an Integrated Mindfulness technique that is a simpler version of mindfulness which is easier to learn in a relatively shorter period of time.
You have described HLGI as a “spa day for the mind.” What does a typical HLGI session look like?
PMJ: HLGI is customized to each individual. During an initial session, I will interview the person to collect information related to their symptoms, belief system, and perceptions of magic, miracles or lack thereof, as well as information about their support system and daily routine. With this information, I am able to personalize the HLGI script to incorporate their existing belief system and mental framework with goals that address their existing symptoms.
I call it a ‘spa day for the mind’ because together with the participant I create a fantasy world utilizing their creative imagination to bring back some of their happiest memories and plant them at the forefront of their subconscious mind that they can readily access. The mind does not differentiate between actual events and imagined circumstances. When HLGI is practiced regularly, it allows the person to get the benefit of having lived those joyful moments and generate happy projections of the future in their day-to-day experiences.
Is there a certification, training, or licensure procedure for HLGI practitioners? Who conducted the HLGI sessions during the UCSD trial?
PMJ: As the developer, I have been the only practitioner of HLGI prior to and during our preliminary study. For future studies and through our newly introduced practice—Guided Imagery Pro—I will train other practitioners who are already certified hypnotherapists who will be granted a license for the use of the proprietary HLGI technique. All trained practitioners will work directly with me through this program to maintain the quality and consistency of what we deliver. Eva Clark, an established hypnotherapist from the San Francisco area with extensive experience working with MS patients, is our first inductee.
I understand that participants in the study were randomized to weekly 1-hour HLGI sessions (n=6) or at-home journaling focused on topics of gratitude or positive self-image (n=5). What has the preliminary data shown?
PMJ: The data collected thus far has shown that HLGI may lead to improvements in depressed mood (p<0.05), fatigue (p=0.05), and physical (p=<0.15) and mental (p<0.05) quality of life as compared to a journaling intervention in people with MS. Depressed mood decreased by 76 percent in the HLGI group compared to a 10 percent increase in the journaling group. Fatigue decreased by 28 percent in the HLGI group compared to no change in the journaling group. Physical quality of life increased by 29.7 percent and 4 percent, respectively, while mental quality of life increased by 12 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
LE: An unrelated observational study in which MS patients were instructed to journal negative feelings and emotions about a traumatic event, 30 minutes a day for 4 weeks, showed that this type of cathartic written emotional expression can be effective in reducing anxiety and stress in MS patients (Hasanzadeh, 2012).
Do you think that the effect of journaling in your study may have shown a greater impact on mental health quality of life if participants had been instructed to express negative as well as positive emotions?
PMJ: Through my own practice, I think the guided journaling method you have referred to was effective as suggested by the researchers of that study because of its aspects that are similar to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In that case, the person gets an opportunity to deal with their challenging and traumatic experiences in a controlled environment and thus think through and come out unharmed, which leads to the catharsis. What I have found in my own MS experience is that there is already much negativity surrounding an MS sufferer. In HLGI, this is why I choose to focus on the happy aspects so I can help create neural pathways that further strengthen their ability to trigger positive solutions and enforce a positive outlook toward life and their future. This, in my view, is what may well be the key to HLGI’s success.
Are there plans to test HLGI in larger trials?
PMJ: The protocol for a larger study comparing HLGI to a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention in 100 MS patients has already been approved by the IRB at UCSC and is currently being reviewed by a large research foundation. In the meantime, we are still accepting at least 7 participants for the present study before we can publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal.
If someone wants to learn more about Healing Light Guided Imagery (HLGI), where can they go for information? How much does HLGI therapy cost?
PMJ: Information is currently available at www.guidedimagerypro.com — and any further questions can be directed to email@example.com and we’ll respond promptly. The cost of 10 HLGI sessions is $1500; however, recognizing the tough financial demands on many MS families, we have launched a fundraising effort through our 501©3 nonprofit, Virtuoso Haven Global Alliance, to help subsidize and reduce the cost to $700. Please don’t be shy about asking any questions related to finances as our goal is to offer HLGI and help out as many of my fellow MS sufferers as we can.
Read more about complementary and alternative medicine and the UCSD trial in my previous post: “Guided Imagery May Reduce Depression and Fatigue in MS, Pilot Study Shows.”
Disclaimer: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity. HealthCentral does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, therapies, products, procedures, healthcare practitioners, or opinions that may be mentioned on the site.
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Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.