A report published in the journal Pain Management Nursing states that people who used visualization were able to change their images of pain from “torment” and “never-ending” to more positive, less debilitating feelings that made their discomfort more manageable. And most said the visualization process – which requires deep relaxation – helped alleviate stress, which also has an impact on pain and illness.

Other studies indicate that visualization can help patients recover faster and more completely after surgery. Ellen Gordon, 66, can attest to that. The retired Valley Forge, Pa., school teacher was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 30 years ago, and has had knuckle replacement and joint fusion operations on both hands.

With the help of a therapist, Gordon began visualizing the surgeries. She focused on every detail, imagining only the best outcome and a speedy recovery.

“Normally, it takes eight weeks to heal from this type of surgery, but I was healed in five weeks,” Gordon says about the procedure she underwent to fuse the middle joint of her right thumb. “I really think that visualization made a difference.”

How to Get Started

Whether a therapist or an audiotape guides you through the visualization process, or you do it on your own, the approach is the same: Relax your body and your mind, imagine the perfect scenario in specific detail and feel true joy – as though it’s already taking place.

Start by listening to some soothing music. Pieces from the Baroque period – such as by composers Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and George Frideric Handel – have been shown to quiet the mind and create a sense of reverie that makes the brain more susceptible to imagery, says Waitley.

Or try relaxing by listening to your own heartbeat and paying attention to each breath. Now imagine yourself in a beautiful, peaceful place, receiving what you want. Or picture your deepest desire and the ideal outcome. “This can be emotion-driven healing,” Vitale says. “I realize that when you’re aching, it’s tough to pretend the arthritis isn’t there. So you need to get into an emotional state that feels good.”

The entire process – from relaxation to visualization – can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes or an hour. Henry visualizes scenes while waiting at a stoplight or before picking up the phone. Waitley recommends taking five or 10 minutes first thing in the morning, and again just before bed, to visualize what you want – whether it be healing your body, excelling at work or overcoming a longtime fear.