Relaxation made just for you

U-M guided imagery expert creates customized CD's for patients

Relaxation made just for you
Delayna Haley listens to a guided imagery podcast created specifically for her to help her relax and fall asleep more easily.

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Delayna Haley lounges on a swing in the backyard of her Flint, Mich., home. Her fluffy, white dog Attie jumps up and flops next to her to cuddle. It's a summer day, and Haley smells the flowers.

In reality, though, it's a chilly day -- a day too cold to sit outside. And although her mind has drifted back home, Haley is lying in a private infusion room in the University of Michigan Cancer Center. Haley is listening to a recording created especially for her by the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center's guided imagery clinician, Claire Casselman.

"Listening to this relaxes me," says Haley, who is undergoing treatment for stage IV Ewing sarcoma. "My breathing changes, and all of my muscles aren't tense anymore. I listen only to Claire's voice, and no thoughts cross my mind."

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.

At the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, Casselman, a licensed clinical social worker, begins a guided imagery session by talking 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 asks patients what types of experiences or images appeal to them. It's different for everyone and can vary based on a person's goals. For Haley, relaxing on the swing with her dog was ideal for calming herself and helping with sleep problems. But for times when she wanted to feel more energetic, Haley preferred to envision herself diving into a pool and swimming -- a favorite activity she hasn't been able to do since treatment began.

After discussing in specific detail why certain images or activities are comforting, Casselman develops a script. Using her low, soothing voice, Casselman records a CD that walks patients through breathing exercises followed by an imagery exercise tailored to the individual patient. She may make tweaks after getting feedback from the patient as well.

"Research shows us that there's a significant number of people who respond even more positively to an image that's personalized and speaks to their particular situation," Casselman says. "We already employ our imagination in everyday ways, and this work is learning to steer it in a direction that's very beneficial. It doesn't take a lot of training or skill to make your imagination a very powerful ally."

For Haley, guided imagery has become a tool for helping her to calm herself.

"I breathe in good energy and breathe out the bad energy," she says.

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Thrive Issue: 
Winter, 2011