Some smokers may be able to quit by seeing themselves do it in their minds, research findings suggest.
A study of 71 smokers found that those who went through guided-imagery therapy had more than twice the abstinence rate 2 years later as their peers who received only standard counseling.
The guided imagery involved progressive muscle relaxation and breathing exercises to calm and focus the mind. Then study participants were led in visualizing themselves in a healthful state and performing specific activities, such as exercising, eating well — and not smoking.
The tactic seemed to work for at least some. Two years later, 26 percent of the smokers had quit, compared with 12 percent of those in the comparison group.
Though most smokers in each group had failed to kick the habit, the abstinence rate in the guided imagery group was, in context, “very good,” study author Dr. Christine A. Wynd told Reuters Health.
In general, success is tough to come by in the realm of smoking cessation, noted Wynd, who directs the nursing Ph.D. program at the University of Akron College of Nursing in Ohio.
She reports her findings in the current issue of the Journal of Nursing Scholarship.
Guided imagery has been studied as a treatment for a range of health conditions, including pain from headaches, burns and rheumatoid arthritis. It has also been used to encourage people to take up healthy habits, like exercise.
According to Wynd, it’s thought that imagery basically affects the processes of the brain in a manner similar to real, everyday events.
“Imaging positive energy and health may have encouraged certain smokers to quit and remain abstinent — essentially, to change their risky behaviors for more healthful pursuits,” she explained.
Study participants were led through imagery exercises at counseling sessions and at home, using an audiotape. In addition, all smokers in the study received more-traditional help in their quit effort, in the form of counseling and education sessions.
Two years later, the guided-imagery group reported an abstinence rate that was more than twice that of the comparison group.
One “caution,” Wynd said, is that guided imagery will not work for every smoker. No one knows, she noted, what makes some smokers successful in their quit effort, while others fail.
SOURCE: Journal of Nursing Scholarship, Winter 2005.