What’s the difference between Guided Imagery & Hypnosis?

Leona Dawson Hypnotherapy News

You could say that guided imagery is a sub-set of hypnosis. You are invited to become relaxed and to bring your awareness to your inner experience. You allow your perceptions to widen so that can you tap into your conscious and unconscious resources. 

Guided Imagery is visual and sensory-oriented.You are guided through a visual journey for a specific purpose (such as relaxation, health, performance, emotional release) using all the senses: imagined sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste. The journey you take can be one that has been developed in a generic way, acknowledging that most human beings share common challenges and experiences; grief, anxiety, doubt, confusion, health concerns, transitions, sadness or depression as well as common desires; to fulfil their dreams, to live in accordance with their values, to love and be loved, to be able to live comfortably in a community to name just a few. Guided imagery can help us tap into and create:

  • a vision for our future
  • resources to support us
  • to regulate our nervous system to feel calmer
  • to find solutions to problems using our creative unconscious

Hypnosis may utilise individualised guided imagery as one of the processes chosen by the hypnotherapist and client.  Hypnosis is both suggestion-oriented and invitational: the hypnotist uses his/her voice to speak specific words and phrases to suggest a positive outcome, to offer some ideas about how to get to the outcome and to tap into under-utilised or forgotten resources to support their client.  Guided imagery may be part of a hypnotherapy session.

Hypnotherapy or clinical hypnosis is informed by psychological theories and a deep understanding of the psyche and personality. Hypnosis is integrated within a counselling or psychotherapy context.

For example some hypnotherapists integrate Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with hypnosis. Some integrate Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). Some integrate a Solution-Oriented approach. Others utilise an Ericksonian approach and some use an analytic approach.  In this way attention is brought to thoughts, feelings and consequent actions or learning to accept that life has its struggles (mental, emotional, physical and social) and that we can choose to attend and commit to certain actions congruent with what is important to us (our values) or that we are not our problem and therefore there are places in our lives where we already have the solution to the issue and this solution may be creative, action-oriented or just needing a wider perspective to be noticed or perhaps we can uncover core beliefs that no longer serve us and untangle those.

You can see that the kind of clinical hypnotherapy you receive will be influenced by the training and beliefs of the hypnotherapist in terms of ‘what creates problems and holds them in place”.

Strategic Hypnotherapy, for example, has a focus on practical behavioural strategies which enable clients to make better choices in their lives. It is goal oriented and uses specific questioning skills to ascertain experiential gaps within the client’s skills sets, thinking processes or focus of attention. It develops an specific approach for each issue paying particular attention to answering the question “how do you..?” rather than “why do you…? It attends to cognitive distortions in the here-and-now rather than a focus in the past. It is an integration of CBT and solution-oriented brief therapy.

In all clinical hypnotherapy sessions, the hypnotherapist draws upon their counselling skills helps to unpack the specifics of the issue their client is bringing to therapy. How are they doing the problem? What specific actions do they take to create and maintain the problem? When do they not have the problem? When is it better/worse? How would they describe the problem (accessing their metaphorical landscape)? What will the future look/sound/feel like when this issue is resolved? What will they be doing differently?

The information gathered then forms the basis of the treatment plan and hypnotic focus. It may even form part of the induction. By attending to the pillars supporting the on-going-ness of the issue the distortions and patterns being run can be unraveled and replaced with healthier, more empowering possibilities. The concreteness of ‘doing’ can be translated into the imaginative realm in hypnosis whereby the client opens to behaving, thinking and attending to experience differently.

The detailed specifics gleaned in the interview can create a set precise hypnotic interventions that are customized to the particularities of each client  in light of the following key principles:

  • Everyone has the power to heal themselves if they have the resources they need – specific improvement is as important as self-awareness/insight – in fact insight alone is not sufficient for change to occur. Some change in action is also required.
  • A focus on the client’s strengths and abilities (rather than their pathologies) amplifying  strengths, learnings and resources to alleviate difficulties and suffering.
  • a clear focus on the processes by which people create and maintain the problem – and what they can do to refocus their attention
  • focus on the present time – what can change now?
  • attends to process not content in the session – how the issue happens
  • the therapist directly influences the client – helping fill experiential gaps and misunderstandings, drawing upon psycho-education to build resources, and behavioural tasks to help change patterns of behaviour and experiences out in the real world.
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