Visualization – What is It Good For?

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©1999
In this article we examine the claims proponents of visualization have made. These can be summarized under three dominant themes: 1) the quest for personal power, 2) the quest for inner knowledge or spiritual enlightenment, 3) the quest for physical health.


Visualization – What is It Good For?

Purposes and Claims

See our article entitled “The Scope of Visualization Today” where we established the modern impact of visualization. We now examine the claims proponents of visualization have made. These can be summarized under three dominant themes: 1) the quest for personal power, 2) the quest for inner knowledge or spiritual enlightenment, 3) the quest for physical health.

The Quest for Personal Power. Psychic Harold Sherman says, “There is tremendous power in imagery.”[1] Andrew Wiehl claims in Creative Visualization, “Wonders have been performed, seeming miracles wrought, through visualization. It is a God-given power available to anyone.”[2]

The Quest for Spiritual Enlightenment. Jack Canfield remarks, “To me the most interesting use of guided imagery is the evocation of the wisdom that lies deep within us.” He also discusses how students can contact their own spirit guides as “wisdom counselors.”[3] Visualization authority and spiritist Mike Samuels observes, “Philosophers and priests in every ancient culture used visualization as a tool for growth and rebirth…. Most religions have used visualization as one of their basic techniques in helping people to realize their spiritual goals. Visualization intensifies any experience.”[4]

In her book Visualization, Adelaide Bry writes that the power of visualization is to “reveal our hidden truths” and to allow us to experience personal connections to “cosmic consciousness.”[5]

A journal devoted to Roberto Assagioli’s method of psychosynthesis claims, “Imagination is superior to all nature and generation, and through it we are capable of transcending the worldly order, or participating in eternal life and in the energy of the super-celestial. It is through this principle, therefore, that we will be liberated from the bonds of fate itself.”[6]

The Quest for Physical Health. Consciousness researcher Kenneth Pelletier of the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute in San Francisco teaches, “The greatest potential of autogenic training and visualization [is as] … a potent tool in a holistic approach to preventative medicine.”[7]

In his Positive Imaging, the late popular “positive thinker” and sometimes occult promoter Norman Vincent Peale cites shamanistic researcher Jeanne Achterberg and G. Frank Lawns as stating, “Imagery may well prove the single most important technique for modern health-care.”[8]

Unfortunately, when people use visualization techniques for personal power, spiritual or educational enlightenment, or physical or mental health, they may get more than they bargained for. Visualization programs usually come with the additional baggage of accompaniments, such as worldviews and physical and spiritual dangers. However, before we examine the accompaniments, we must first note the different types and varieties of imagery and visualization.


Visualization is essentially a powerful and directed use of the imagination with specific goals and methods that vary widely. One problem in writing briefly on this topic is that the different types of visualization make a general analysis difficult The academic types of visualization do not have the same goals or necessarily the same methods as the occult or Christian types, so that a critique of one type may not supply a valid critique of another. For example, those interested in an occult use of the imagination do not have the same purposes or practices as Christians who may attempt to use the imagination for what they see as godly purposes.

In order to help distinguish the types of visualization, we have prepared the following generalized chart and subsequent discussion.


Four Types of Visualization
Type Examples
1. Academic


Autogenic training

Jungian methods

Imagery studies

Secular or transpersonal


2. Popular


New Age therapies

Mind science practices

Personal or business-oriented


programs and seminars

3. Occult


Ritual magic


Psychic healing



Buddhist practice (such as the use of mandalas)

4. Christian Christian psychotherapy

Inner healing

Jesus visualization

Visualization with Scripture[9]

Between types 1 and 3, and 3 and 4, some boundaries are concrete, but potential interrelationships exist.

Between types 2 and 3, boundaries are fairly fluid.

Between types 1 and 4, and 2 and 4, boundaries are more fluid; potential and actual interrelationships exist.

The chart reveals that concrete boundaries between the categories are rarely absolute, and that many categories interact.


There are three general varieties of visualization.

Programmed Visualization. This is an active process used individually; for example, the practitioner holds a positive image in the mind in order to “create” the desired object, situation, or reality. It can be performed on the couch or in magic ritual.

Receptive Visualization. This is a passive process; it (so to speak) “lets the movie roll” after an initial theme or setting is developed in the consciousness. The method is passive in that it receives whatever comes into the mind, which is usually interpreted as special guidance of some kind, such as instructions from one’s “higher self,” “inner guide,” or “divine consciousness.”

Guided Visualization. This is also termed “guided imagery,” and it employs a friend, counselor, or family member in either a therapeutic or occult New Age context. The therapist suggests a scene, such as a meadow or a forest, and the patient imaginatively elaborates upon the scene as a key to his own “inner processes” and “unconscious conflicts.” Guided imagery may also be done by a leader of a New Age seminar, or practitioner who helps the audience construct a particular mental environment for contacting a spirit guide. Silva Mind Control is a case in point.[10]

One may find that these general varieties of visualization can be described loosely under a number of terms: guided fantasy, mental imaging, active imagination, directed daydreaming, and inner imagery. But it should be remembered that visualization is not the same thing as imagery. Visualization involves imagery, but imagery purposely directed toward a particular goal.

How does imagery differ from visualization? There are many different forms of imagery, many of which we all experience. For example, a “memory image” is a reconstruction of a genuine past event tied to a specific occasion; for example, most of us remember what our first date was like. Or an “imagination image” is the construction of an imaginary image that may or may not contain elements of past perceptions or events, but it is arranged in a novel way. For example, we might imagine how we would look alongside a new car parked in front of our beach house, or how the living room would look with the furniture rearranged. We might imagine what it would be like to be in heaven (or hell), or how one of the biblical prophets dealt with a difficult situation, or what we would do in his place. This is similar to “daydream fantasy,” in which there is a combination of memory and imagination images.

In dreams we find sleep imagery. And there is also imagery that is experienced only rarely, such as in hallucinations, in which internal imagery is wrongly believed to be external. In visions we find induced, internal imagery as, for example, revelations (or even projections) that may be either true or false; that is, from God and angels or from the devil and demons (Matt. 4:8; Ezek. 1:1).

There are many other varieties of imagery, such as recurrent images, eidetic images, hypnagogic, and hypnopompic images. Typically, however, these kinds of imagery are not visualization; they lack the accompaniments, commitment, and trust involved in the visualization process and its specific techniques. All this is why it is important to distinguish imagination and imagery from visualization proper.


Visualization is never used by itself. Something always informs it. Typical accompaniments of visualization would include :

  • relaxation
  • meditation (sometimes accompanied by yogic-like controlled breathing and postures)
  • the cultivation of willpower
  • various forms of self-hypnosis
  • faith or trust in the “guide” (whether human or spirit) and in the process of visualization itself

We will now briefly discuss these accompaniments.


Relaxation is, of course, a vital and necessary part of everyday living. But when combined with visualization and meditation techniques, it can become transformed into an occult process. In “Relax Your Way to ESP,” the late leading psychic researcher, D. Scott Rogo, refers to the research of parapsychologist Rhea White, who discovered that of the greatest psychics “by and large many of [them] began with relaxation.”[11] These psychics stress the importance of suggestion and visualization.[12]

In her popular book Creative Visualization, New Age psychic Shakti Gawain states, “It’s important to relax deeply when you are first learning to use creative visualization.”[13] Noted educator Jack Canfield encourages classroom students to practice a variety of occult, or potentially occult, relaxation techniques just prior to the visualization process; these include breath awareness, breath imagery, breath control, progressive relaxation, autogenic training, polarity, and chanting.[14]

In Opening to Channel, two spirit guides, “Orin” and “DaBen,” offer specific advice for relaxation and visualization, which “helps you become accustomed to the state of mind that is best for a [spirit] guide’s entry.”[15]

Relaxation, then, is an important component of successful visualization.


Another accompaniment of visualization is meditation: Visualization is often conducted within a meditative environment; for example, within a structured program of internal concentration using a mantra or word of psychic power. As we have shown elsewhere, almost all meditation other than biblical meditation develops psychic powers and inculcates a nonbiblical worldview and can open the door to occultism and spirit contact (see our eBook, Knowing the Facts about Meditation). Gawain states, “Almost any form of meditation will eventually take you to an experience of yourself as source, or your higher self.”[16] What she means by “source” here is ultimate reality or God.


Willpower is also important to visualization. The systematic use of willpower for effective visualization is stressed in magical and occult texts; particularly for ritualistic purposes, and to a degree parallels the popular usage, although often for different goals.[17] In fact, without willful intent and commitment, visualization does not exist. Thus, “Programmed visualization… is the deliberate use of the power of your own mind to create your own reality…. [T]here is nothing too insignificant or too grand for you to visualize. Our lives are limited by what we see as possible…. A basic rule of visualization is: you can use visualization to have whatever you want, but YOU MUST REALLY, REALLY WANT WHAT YOU VISUALIZE.”[18]


Hypnosis may be another accompaniment of visualization. In fact, some visualization and progressive relaxation methods are indistinguishable from hypnosis.[19] Hypnosis may be part of or joined with visualization in both the popular and the academic varieties. As far as the latter are concerned, interest in hypnosis is usually sparked by the fact that one’s ability to visualize and one’s susceptibility to hypnosis are related. “[I]maginative involvement, or absorption in fantasy experiences, and high imagery are known to be positively related to measured hypnotizability,” and “today the intimacy between imagination and hypnosis are [sic] clearly recognized and studied by appropriate scientific methods.”[20]


Finally, faith or trust is held to be an integral aspect regulating the effectiveness of visualization. As is clear from the material cited below, without such trust the person cannot expect much in terms of results. However, faith is rarely placed in the biblical God or Jesus Christ; faith is usually placed in one’s alleged inner powers, mental capacity, “intuitive” abilities, cosmic energy, the universe, and so on. The following statements note the importance of faith:

To put it another way, in attempting this or any other technique for self realization, one needs to trust that it can work.[21]

Have faith that it will materialize as you picture it, and never for a moment doubt it…. Just as an attorney must understand law in order to practice it… so must we understand the law of the Universe and cooperate with it in order to have our desires realized. The more faith and enthusiasm we put into our mental imaging, the sooner it will work out for us.[22]

The previous introductory discussion on visualization suggests several conclusions:

  • We all routinely experience certain types of imagery.
  • Imagery is a component of visualization but may be studied in and of itself apart from visualization. In other words, imagery studies may be strictly scientific and neutral, or they may be placed into a larger metaphysical worldview.
  • Imagery is not necessarily visualization. Visualization demands the exercise of will and faith within a context of relaxation, meditation, and often self-hypnosis!
  • In general, the types, varieties, and methods of visualization can be, to one degree or another, fluid in their interrelationships.
  • The accompaniments of visualization regulate its outcome. That is, they place it within a certain context, a certain worldview, and to that degree they influence the method’s effectiveness, impact, and spiritual implications.



  1. Harold Sherman, Your Power to Heal (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1973), p. 99.
  2. Andrew Wiehl, Creative Visualization (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1958), p. 11.
  3. Anastas Harris, ed., Holistic Education: Education for Living (Del Mar, CA: Holistic Education Network, 1981), pp. 38-39.
  4. Mike Samuels, M.D., Nancy Samuels, Seeing With the Mind’s Eye: The History, Techniques and Uses of Visualization (NY: Bookworks/Random House, 1983), pp. 21, 28.
  5. Adelaide Bry, Visualization: Directing the Movies of Your Mind (NY: Barnes & Noble Books, 1979), p. 14.
  6. James Vargiu, ed., Psychosynthesis Institute, Synthesis Two: The Realization of the Self (San Francisco, CA: Psychosynthesis Institute of the Synthesis Graduate School for the Study of Man, 1978), p. 119.
  7. Kenneth Pelletier, Mind as Healer Mind as Slayer: A Holistic Approach to Preventing Stress Disorders (NY: Dell, 1979), p. 262.
  8. Norman Vincent Peale, Positive Imaging: The Powerful Way to Change Your Life (Old Tappan, NJ: Revelle, 1982), p. 94, citing their “Guided Imagery and the Bodymind Approach to Optimum Health.”
  9. e.g., Carolyn Stahl, Opening to God: Guided Imagery and Meditation on Scripture (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1977); C.S. Lovett, Longing to Be Loved (Personal Christianity Chapel, 1982).
  10. A video debate between Jose Silva, John Weldon, Dave Hunt and George DeSau is available from The John Ankerberg Show, P. O. Box 8977, Chattanooga, TN 37414.
  11. D. Scott Rogo, “Relax Your Way to ESP,” Psychic, Volume 7, Number 4, September/October, 1976, p. 18.
  12. Ibid., p. 19.
  13. Shakti Gawain, Creative Visualization (Mill Valley, CA: Whatever Publishing, Inc., 1983), p. 24.
  14. Harris, Holistic Education, pp. 30-31.
  15. Sanaya Roman and Duane Packer, Opening to Channel: How to Connect with Your Guide (Tiburon, CA: H. J. Kramer, Inc., 1987), p. 69.
  16. Gawain, Creative Visualization, p. 57.
  17. Colin Wilson, Mysteries: An Investigation Into the Occult, The Paranormal and the Supernatural (NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1978), pp. 244-45; Vargiu, Psychosynthesis Institute, p. 120; / David Conway, Magic: An Occult Primer (NY: Bantam, 1973), pp. 60-69.
  18. Bry, Visualization, p. 40.
  19. Harris, Holistic Education, p. 34.
  20. K. P. Monteiro, et al, “Imagery, Absorption and Hypnosis: A Factorial Study,” Journal of Mental Imagery, Volume 4, Number 2, 1980, pp. 63-64.
  21. Vargiu, Psychosynthesis Institute, p. 128.
  22. Wiehl, Creative Visualization, pp. 72-73.

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