Code Name: Guided Visualization

Something’s bothered me most of my life.

There seems to be pervasive logophobia surrounding the word “hypnosis”.

I first noticed this in my preteens, while I was browsing relaxation tapes (yes, audio cassettes – kids, ask your parents) at the local bookstore. It suddenly struck me: “guided visualization” or “guided relaxation” are code phrases for “we’ve made a hypnosis tape, but we’re afraid no one will buy it if we call it that”.
It may even be that the tapes’ producers didn’t realize what they’d actually created, because general misunderstanding of what hypnosis is feeds the phobia. Understand, I’m not saying those tapes were high quality – any hypnosis that focuses solely on directive visuals (“You see a relaxing garden…”) is likely to be ineffective for some of the audience (including me). Effective hypnosis, especially in a mass-produced recording, invokes all of our sensory input or, ideally in a one-to-one session, even focuses on the sense(s) the individual connects to most strongly. Many of us imaginatively smell/hear/feel/taste much better than we “see”.

More recently, I was struck dumb when one of my grad school professors used one verbal stroke to dismiss the entire idea of hypnotherapy. Oh, it was “fine for relaxation,” he ceded, but had “no therapeutic benefit” (I’m paraphrasing). To give him the benefit of the doubt, I have to assume he’s behind on recent hypnosis research or that the hypnotherapists he knows are using outdated, ineffective methods. But when, in other class sessions, he went on to discuss treatment strategies that involved clients using strong internal focus of their imaginations to vividly recall past trauma/events and dissociate from their current surroundings – even relaxation! – it became obvious: he had an understanding of hypnosis that is completely different from mine. (I don’t have room here, but I’ll explain my understanding of hypnosis further in a future post.) Many therapists don’t realize how many boxes their treatments tick on the hypnosis checklist, apparently because they’ve dismissed the validity of that list.

Why are we so afraid of that word, “hypnosis”? Surely stage entertainers play a role, since many people seem to be concerned about being made to look a gullible fool. I used to assume Svengali had something to do with it, until I realized how few people today have heard of Trilby (see “Seen & Heard” at And then there are facepalm-worthy stories like this and this that nevertheless inspire trepidation.

Even the mental health field confuses the issue. Like any other field, re-branding happens: someone comes along, takes an old idea, changes a few things, and introduces it as something ALL-NEW! and FANTASTIC! By my count, from experience, reading articles, and talking to therapists already working in the field, the basic ideas of hypnosis have already been tweaked and re-branded as good old guided visualization, NLP, and mindfulness, among others.

I’m certainly not trying to say that innovation is a bad thing, but can’t we at least be honest that we’re not creating something completely new when we’re really improving on the age-old practice of hypnosis?


About Rebekah

Marriage & Family Therapist (MFT) Registered Intern (IMF 75650). Editor. Student of hypnosis. Geek. Straight ally. Not necessarily in that order.

Posted on Saturday 8 October 2011, in Hypnosis and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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