I have a question about guided imagery and hypnosis.  I am a counselor, and teach meditation, and am certified in with the National Guild of Hypnotists.  However, I am more interested in meditation than hypnosis as a healing tool for a few different reasons.  My question is: Do you believe one can one get the same healing benefits with GI/guided meditation (or self-hypnosis) as with hypnosis?  The reason I wonder is it may seem that, or most hypnotists believe that one goes into deeper states with hypnosis.  Any information or referrals would be very helpful here.  Thank you!!


Hey, Peter,
Thanks for the great question.  This comes up a lot.  

The short answer to your question is:  Yes, I think the benefits are pretty much the same for guided imagery and hypnosis, even though it goes against traditional hypnosis orthodoxy to say so.  
If you comb through the research literature, you’ll find that, even though there’s no direct comparison between the methods that I’m aware of, the outcomes from guided imagery studies and the outcomes from hypnosis studies essentially hit the same ball park of outcomes.   So that’s my first point.  Efficacy looks roughly the same among the range of studies (some sloppy, some pretty good) that we can find.

I could even make a case for superior efficacy of the guided imagery, given the astonishing effect sizes we’ve seen from the surgery studies and PTSD research - but I won’t, because we might eventually find similar results from hypnosis trials that are in the works.   

Second, you have to keep in mind that there are two basic kinds of hypnosis techniques, and one of them, Ericksonian hypnosis (like the work David Illig does, for instance), is arguably more like guided imagery than standard hypnosis.  So how do you compare them?

And besides, a lot of guided imagery starts out with a hypnotic induction, then moves ahead with the guided imagery - you’ll find this with Emmett Miller’s work, for instance - Martha Howard's too.  The truth is, the two methods have been so intermingled that it’s not clear what’s being tested and what’s yielding the good results half the time.

As for the argument that one-on-one, in person hypnosis works better than a guided audio recording - the evidence doesn’t support that either.  Studies of audio interventions and online internet interventions, with minimal, weekly check-ins from live clinicians, are looking pretty darn good. So I think this assessment is a throwback from the days before we had the data to know any better, but which still gets taught as part of traditional hypnosis 101.  People trained in Ericksonian hypnosis don’t buy it, and many clinicians who are trained in both approaches don’t either.  

Bottom line: whatever helps people is great!
All best,