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How We Got Started 25 Years Ago…

27 Apr

Well, folks,

Now that we have our new website in place, and it seems to be clicking along, doing what it's supposed to, with shockingly few complaints, I've been looking back at how this company evolved, and all the help we got to help get guided imagery into the ears of people who could use it.

It's hard to believe it's been nearly 25 years since I was first introduced to my business partner, George Klein, and we started Health Journeys.

At the time, I'd recorded 14 guided imagery cassette tapes that focused on major illnesses or procedures (cancer, stroke, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, surgery, chemotherapy, etc etc). I'd first created some imagery for chemotherapy, requested by the oncology nurses at University Hospitals of Cleveland for patients in the waiting room.

I was heartened by the results, and I'd come to think these would make great gifts for family members and friends who were sick – kind of an "audio get well card". But I didn't have a clue how to make them or get them into general distribution.

A friend at American Greetings talked me out of the get well card idea (too "out there" for a major corporation), but sent me to the head of the business school at CWRU, Scott Cowan, for advice. This was 1989. (He later became the much loved and admired President of Tulane University, a key leader in the resurgence of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.)

It was Scott who introduced me to George, telling me he knew a businessman who was just crazy, creative and gutsy enough to go for this wacky idea.

And he was.

George in turn brought in his friend Larry Kirshbaum. At the time, Larry was editor of Warner Books, and George's company, Klein News, distributed his mass market paperbacks to drug stores and supermarkets all over the U.S. As luck would have it, Larry was just a few months away from launching Time Warner AudioBooks, and in sore need of audio titles to fill out his list before the fast-approaching launch date.

Like George, he "got" the potential usefulness of guided imagery, which was definitely not obvious to most folks at the time – keep in mind, the only docs who would help me with the medical accuracy of my content were personal friends and neighbors, who probably thought I was nuts, but didn't have the heart to refuse – allergist Ron Strauss, HIV researcher Michael Lederman, Rheumatoid Arthritis doc Art Newman – a whole posse of generous souls.

But I digress. Larry needed a list fast to launch his new imprint, and there we were with our 14 titles. He snatched them all up to repackage and distribute to bookstores and specialty shops under his Time Warner label, and even had me present the new "product line" to the entire sales force in a big company kick-off.

Wow! Whether that was dumb luck or glorious synchronicity, I don't know, but it sure was heady stuff!

So we got into bookstores in the early 90's.

David Sobel MD, the head of patient education and health promotion at Kaiser Permanente, a very cutting edge HMO that was trying all kinds of things nobody else was, picked us up as a practical but inexpensive way to help patients stay well and get through illnesses, medical procedures and general stress. To this day, they give out our guided imagery to their members, free of charge.

Other insurance carriers followed suit – Aetna, United Health Care, Oxford, Blue Shield of California... especially after a Blue Shield study showed that when pre-op patients listened to our surgery imagery, they saved money and had happier patients with fewer complications.

Then a terrific, persistent salesperson named Ann Harris got a meet-up with a wild and crazy giant of a guy (seriously – we're talking 6'8" with meat on his bones), Dick van Thiel at SmithKline Beecham, who bought and private-labeled 200,000 chemotherapy tapes for oncology nurses to give out to their chemo patients, along with Kytril, the anti-emetic product he managed.

I was blown away. A couple hundred thousand cancer patients were going to get handed a cassette from their trusted nurse, and would benefit from guided imagery – just like that!

Again, soon the competition was doing the same – Glaxo, Abbott, Roche, Amgen, and others were private labeling guided imagery and doling it out free to patients who otherwise would never have known about it.

If you can believe it, Ann even got me on QVC, where I got to extol the virtues of guided imagery to shoppers nationwide. I know, crazy! (What a system! That's another story all by itself.) We still get orders from people who tell us they first heard about us on QVC .

A great health psychologist at Canyon Ranch, named Jeff Rossman, head of behavioral medicine there, did a weight loss study with guided imagery and soon we were getting to people through health spas and weight loss clinics.

An amazing nurse-practitioner and diabetes educator, Dr. Jane Seley, introduced our guided imagery for diabetes at her gigantic annual meeting of Certified Diabetes Educators twenty years ago, with such compelling zeal and sincerity that even skeptics bought in to the intervention.

I guess I could go on and on, but this gratitude list has already gotten way too long. We're lucky to still be around, now fully digitized, SEO'd and Google-approved!

And I'm grateful.

Take care and be well,

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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.