Guided Imagery to Be Used in Smoking-Cessation Study
Powered by results from her recent See Me Smoke Free study, UA nursing professor Judith S. Gordon hopes to use guided imagery to help underserved smokers harness the power of their minds to help them quit smoking.

By Jason Gelt, UA College of Nursing
Sept. 11, 2018


A new program designed to appeal to men and racial ethnic minorities who want to quit smoking is being tested by Judith S. Gordon of the UA College of Nursing.
A new program designed to appeal to men and racial ethnic minorities who want to quit smoking is being tested by Judith S. Gordon of the UA College of Nursing.

Telephone tobacco quitlines are effective at helping people to quit, but they often fail to reach a diverse population of smokers, particularly men and people of color. Quitlines mainly use a cognitive-behavioral approach, with techniques that have been used for many years. New research, however, suggests guided imagery can be effective in helping smokers quit.

Guided imagery is a form of visualization in which a coach helps smokers harness the power of their minds in addition to changing their behaviors. Guided imagery has been used by coaches and athletes for decades to help them succeed.

Now, powered by results from her recent See Me Smoke Free study with women who smoke, Judith Gordon, University of Arizona College of Nursing professor and interim associate dean for research, hopes to use guided imagery to help smokers quit. This is the first study to develop and evaluate a telephone-based, guided imagery smoking-cessation program.

“The prevalence of smoking is at an all-time low,” Gordon says. “However, some groups of people still are not getting the help they need. If you look at who is smoking, it’s generally people who have lower incomes and therefore less access to care. What we’re trying to do is get our message out to those people that there is help if you want to quit smoking.”

Gordon’s Be Smoke Free program, funded by a $700,000 grant from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, is open to smokers throughout Arizona.

The Be Smoke Free program offers participants six weekly coaching sessions delivered over the phone, four weeks of nicotine patches or lozenges, and web-based tools at no cost. Participants will be randomly assigned to one of two types of coaching: guided imagery or a standard intervention.

Both programs include individual attention and the development of a personal quit plan. The standard intervention focuses on changing behaviors, while guided-imagery intervention coaches work with participants to develop guided-imagery audio files that can be reviewed on their phone, computer or MP3 player.

Gordon’s team is reaching out to all smokers, particularly men and individuals from diverse racial or ethnic groups, to offer a new opportunity to quit.

“We know telephone quit coaching works, and we know that guided imagery has helped athletes win. So, we’re hoping that by using this guided imagery approach, smokers will be more open to trying something new,” she says.

The goal for this phase of Gordon’s study is to recruit 100 active participants in a randomized trial. In the first three months of the trial, the team enrolled more than 50 participants. In addition to help with quitting, participants also receive $50 for taking part in the study.

Feedback from participants has been very positive. One participant commented, “[My coach] was very knowledgeable. I have quit multiple times in the past and have never felt so well prepared. I am proud to say that I am both smoke- and nicotine-free.”

The developmental Be Smoke Free study has the potential to advance the science of tobacco cessation through the addition of guided imagery and improve public health through increased reach of telephone quitlines. Gordon hopes that results from the study will set the stage for a larger, national study designed to test the effectiveness of the guided-imagery quitline program.

For more information about joining the Be Smoke Free program, call 520-626-4243, email or visit

For more information about the study, contact Gordon at 520-626-4970 or

A version of this story originally appeared on the UA Health Sciences website:




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Jason Gelt