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Making Guided Imagery Audios: How Do You Start?

08 Feb

Hi Belleruth,

I would like to know if you had any training prior to creating your first meditation tape.  I am a LCSW and have a deep desire to create a relaxation/meditation tape for the physicians I serve. They are in recovery and I would like to learn how to create a CD. Any support would be greatly appreciated! Peace.

R.A.M.

Dear R.A.M.

I did some weekend trainings with some hilarious and completely outrageous (but highly skilled) Ericksonian hypnotherapists at Sheppard Pratt, many, many years ago (Mark King, Charles Citrenbaum & Bill Cohen). The training was illuminating, informative and fun.  

But I probably learned most by just listening to other peoples' imagery and hypnosis recordings.  Way back in the day, one of my sons picked up a Win at Sports cassette tape by David Illig, and after a week or so, he declared that it was helping him field grounders, in spite of his very flat feet (He was an ace pitcher otherwise, with a swell knuckleball).

I listened to the tape and realized that there was really elegant Ericksonian hypnosis on it, so I bought a few more of David’s titles to get a feel for how he constructed them.  [Sidebar: It took some doing, but we eventually tracked down that audio after starting our catalog, and we now carry that very recording - only now it's called Peak Performance Sports and you can see it here - along with several others of his.  And we found his work to be every bit as good as I'd remembered it, 25 years ago!]

I became interested in the methodology and studied whatever guided meditations I could find - there weren't so many at the time: work by Bernie Siegel, Kenneth Pelletier, Emmett Miller & Louise Hay. Eventually, as I developed confidence, I started making individualized tapes for clients in my practice who were interested in trying an audio like this. I didn't charge them, because I was learning myself, and I listened to their feedback with great interest.  

They mostly seemed to find their tapes helpful (or were too polite to say otherwise), and I was encouraged to continue and tweak further.  I'd make the tapes at my kitchen table early in the morning before my kids got up, using two recorders - one for me to speak into and one for playing background music - a muddy technology, to say the least - I couldn’t bear to listen to those noisy recordings, now that Steve the composer and Bruce the engineer have made me so persnickety. But they got the job done.  (And nowadays you can do really fine work with home software - anyone can have a top flight mini-studio, these days. Or, for a few hundred dollars, you can rent a studio.  If you come in well prepared, it shouldn’t take more than a couple hours to record, and another two hours of editing and mixing time.)

When some Chemo nurses at University Hospitals of Cleveland asked me to make a tape for the waiting room, I researched the physiology involved with some docs and nurses I knew, and interviewed chemo patients to get some insight into what it’s like being on the receiving end of that chemo line. Then I wrote something, got feedback, went back and wrote some more, got more feedback .. and finally went into a real studio and recorded the final script.

The formula for those health-challenge imagery recordings is in my first book, Staying Well with Guided Imagery, still in print.  And I go into the do’s and don’ts of recording in great detail in my last book Invisible Heroes, in the chapter on General Guided Imagery Wisdom & Tactics, basically pages 187 - 195.  

Probably the most important pointer about the actual recording is to match your voice to your own relaxed breathing. That makes it lower, calmer and more out-of-your-throat-and-into your-chest-and-belly than your regular, waking speaking voice. Anybody leading a meditation with a high pitched voice is NOT in their body and will not encourage anyone to truly relax.  

You also can’t be fake or contrived or dramatic or seductive, needless to say.  You don’t want to call attention to yourself or get in the way of the listener’s own images - just be a relaxed, comfortable, safe voice that’s not particularly noticeable, so you’re providing a platform for the listener’s imagination to work from there.  

So that's my story.  And my advice to you is to just listen to other people's work, research their techniques and what they have to say about how they do this. Take what you like and leave the rest behind.  Attend some workshops if you like.  But when you start thinking you would do some things differently, it’s time to create your own.  Good luck!

p.s. There already exists some really skillful guided imagery for recovery:  Inner Peace, Outward Power: Guided Imagery to Use with the 12 Steps to Sobriety by Charles Leviton & Patti Leviton, Synergy Seminars, 441 S. Calle Encilia – 17, Palm Springs CA 92262, 888.791.6329. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award