"Imagery is highly compatible with religious belief but doesn't insist upon it. It offers the gift of opening up even the most cynical trauma survivor to the spaciousness of the wider perspective, a felt sense of the mystical, and glimpses of long-shut spiritual doorways. After we experience unspeakable heart-shattering events, entering this vaster perspective allows us to apprehend the larger truth that everything really is, at some level of reality, still all right. This is not the same thing as denying the ugliness we understand that what happened was hideous. But from this other view we can hold both truths at the same time, derive comfort, and maintain hope.
"My hard-core physiologist friends would say that this experience of the boundless, the noetic, and the ineffable that imagery catalyzes is the result of our hyperactive temporal lobes, which are known to produce perceptions of religious or spiritual experiences. Psi researcher Michael Persinger reports that when the amygdala and other structures within the limbic system of the brain are electrically stimulated, intense hallucinatory activity is generated, and subjects report seeing apparitions, hearing inner voices, feeling nearby presences, and sensing powerful convictions of deep meaningfulness.
"My religious and mystical friends, however, would say that guided imagery is simply the equivalent of an engraved invitation to the divine and to guardian angels, guides, spiritual helpers, departed loved ones, noble ancestors, and benign invisible forces to come calling and lend a hand. They would suggest that these divine allies are available and eager to be called upon for assistance; but politely adhering to spiritual etiquette, they wait to be asked.
"I would put myself in the second camp, although I certainly have no problem with Persinger's physiological facts. Science and mysticism are not mutually exclusive, after all, and I'm certain that hyperactive temporal lobes and God are happy to work hand in hand. But whatever one's bias may be, it makes no difference in practical terms. Scientists, theologians, and mystics would have to agree that people suffering from post-traumatic stress face extraordinary emotional hardship and an unsettling loss of identity, safety, trust, and meaning. They need something big enough to hold them as they slog through all that suffering and disorientation, toward their own redemption.
"Hope has to come from somewhere, once the normal hope-carrying avenues have melted away. For this reason many people lean harder on their faith or return to it for support. Most will seek out some form of spiritual sustenance even those who barely believe it exists. A substantial number of those disaffected from the formal religious training of their younger years will look for it. Even survivors who feel betrayed by their religious or spiritual history find themselves envying those who are able to find sustenance. Imagery is a way of accommodating all of these circumstances and helping people get back to a comforting God without setting off their doubts, fears, objections, or emotional resistance. The need is strong."