The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music is a powerful music-centred form of therapy. It involves listening to GIM Music Programs while in a relaxed, non-ordinary state of consciousness. The person/client embarks on a sound-image “journey”, with the music acting as a type of soundtrack that facilitates and guides imaging.
Prior to the music listening, the client and therapist discuss and set an intention for the sound-image journey that is relevant to the reasons for seeking therapy or personal development. After setting the intention, the therapist chooses an appropriate GIM Music Program, the client lies down, closes his/her eyes, the therapist induces relaxation through applying simple relaxation techniques, and the music begins.
Images that occur during music listening may vary from fleeting and/or faint visual images, to vivid, story-like visual images. Experiences other than visual images, such as somatic (bodily) sensations, kinesthetic experiences (sensations of movement) and intense emotional involvement may also occur. The therapist is in verbal contact with the client, asking the client questions that deepen and enrich the experience. The traveler is safely contained by both the music and the therapist’s verbal connection throughout the experience.
When the music stops, the sound-image experience is processed, often through art work such as spontaneous mandala drawing and discussion, as it relates to the intention of the session and the client’s reasons for seeking therapy or personal development (see question 4 below for more detail about GIM sessions).
The traveler’s images and other experiences are highly symbolic in nature and can be compared to a mirror of internal reality, reflecting inner conflicts, urges, needs, areas of concern, strengths, weaknesses, insights, etc. GIM affords the traveler direct access to deeper layers of wisdom and activates inherent capacity for growth, healing, integration and transformation.
Music is the main catalyst during the GIM experience, and can be viewed as a trusted “co-therapist” (see question 2 below for more detail about GIM music programs).
There are more than 45 well established GIM Music Programs, each used for specific purposes. Programs are between 30-40 minutes in duration, and typically consist of three to five pieces of music, carefully sequenced in order to facilitate the stages of the journey, namely entry, deepening/intensification and exit.
Music is mostly from the so-called “Classical” genre, including works by the masters of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic and 20th century periods. This type of music has stood the test of time, and is complex and rich enough to interact with the human psyche in all its mysterious layers. Some programs feature contemporary music.
Examples of GIM Music Programs include:
- Beginner programs used to explore oneself in a gentle, non-threatening, diagnostic manner
- Programs aimed at working through difficult, intense emotions such as rage, fear, grief, loss
- Programs for inner child work (working with the hurt/lonely child part of oneself as an adult)
- Programs for shadow work (meeting and working with the parts of oneself that are viewed as unacceptable, negative; For advanced GIM travelers)
- Programs aimed at reaching big life decisions and making life transitions
- Programs aimed at addressing conflict and relational difficulties (with self and others)
- Transpersonal programs aimed at spiritual growth and exploration (for advanced GIM travelers)
- Archetypal programs (Archetypes are various psychic constructs or patterns, present in each person, and collectively present in all societies and cultures. Archetypal characters are present in the stories and arts of all cultures, for example the evil sorcerer, the strong hero, the innocent damsel in distress, the wise old woman/man etc.; For advanced GIM travelers)
During GIM a person has access to a deeper layer of consciousness where knowledge, insights, intuition, experiences, images, needs, identity, etc. are closer to the true (spiritual) core of the person. The music that the person listens to is exquisitely rich and complex, and is chosen in order that it resonates with the issue the person wants to explore. This is possible because of the fact that (i) the great master composers of all times were able to embody a vast range of human emotions and experiences (from subtle to extremely intense) in the music they composed, (ii) GIM music was chosen and researched by professionals qualified to do so and (iii) the therapist knows and understands the music and guides the experience through the music toward the issues at hand.
The music thus triggers and steers what is already there – images and experiences within this deeper layer that are relevant and important, providing the client with a new connection to, or insight into the issue at hand, this on a level that is beyond logical reasoning. Examples include:
- fully experiences and expressing an emotion in order for it to transform into something new
- recognizing a part of oneself that needs to end
- becoming aware of/connecting to a much needed part that is strong or wise or spiritual
- gaining a sudden “bigger picture” perspective in terms of a particular situation
The music-image experiences are then processed by the therapist and client in a manner that allows the person to apply and connect what was learned to the everyday, rational level, in order to bring change and ultimately transformation.
A typical individual GIM session is 90 minutes in duration, and involves the following components:
- The therapist and client discuss the issues at hand, and together set an intention for the music-image journey. During the initial sessions, the discussion may be longer and the music chosen thus shorter, seeing that the reasons for therapy/personal development are discussed, and the therapist and client are getting to know one another. The intention is set in the language of the psyche, and not on an analytical/cognitive/rational level. Often, metaphors are used. (For example, a person suffering from anxiety and stress might have the intention “To dive into the blue lake” rather than “To clarify what I need in order to relax.” The therapist selects an appropriate GIM music program, based mainly on the intention.
- The traveler lies down with eyes closed (and is often covered with a blanket), and the guide induces relaxation without music. Various simple relaxation techniques are used, and the client’s preference is considered.
- The GIM music program is played, during which the therapist verbally guides the client in order to deepen and enrich the client’s imagery and experiences.
- After the music, the client spontaneously draws a mandala (a circular picture that represents the client’s inner self in the moment after the music-image journey). A discussion of the mandala is used to process the experience and relate it to the intention of the session and the issues at hand.
An adapted form of GIM is used for group therapy and group workshops where shorter GIM Music Programs are used, and where the therapist does not verbally guide the group’s imaging experience.
- GIM invokes personal insight and intuition
- GIM offers inner strength and support
- GIM is a catalyst for the release of intense emotions, from intense pain, anxiety, rage, aggression, to peace, joy, celebration and exhilaration
- GIM awakens and develops creativity and imagination
- GIM assists clients to view complex situations from a new, transcended position (seeing the “bigger picture”)
- GIM provides access to the true light and shadow aspects of the person and enhances self-knowledge and acceptance
- GIM ultimately activates inner wisdom, leading to personal and spiritual growth and transformation.
- GIM offers integration of body, mind and spirit.
GIM is traditionally used with individual adult clients, but has been adapted for use with groups, couples, families, teenagers and children.
GIM is suitable for clients with relatively well-developed, stable ego states and personal identity, who are capable of symbolic and abstract thinking.
GIM can benefit those who are:
- experiencing difficult emotions, such as anxiety, rage, grief, pain
- wanting to deal with aspects of themselves that are viewed as negative, destructive or unacceptable (shadow work)
- struggling with childhood losses and pain as adults (inner child work)
- wanting to deal with unresolved personal issues that may seem blocked or may be resisted
- suffering from depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety disorders such as OCD and phobias, eating disorders, addictions, trauma, abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- experiencing difficulties in terms of mind-body connections – pain, tension, stress, fatigue, burn-out, physical disorders, sensory experiences, pain management, terminal illness
- experiencing relational difficulties – with self, husband/wife/partner, children, friends, colleagues
- in the process of making big life decisions and transitions
- seeking personal growth and transformation
- seeking creative exploration and development
- seeking spiritual exploration and growth
GIM is not suitable for people with serious mental or psychiatric disorders such as dementia, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. Weak ego states and a weak sense of identity may result in blurring between reality and fantasy, which can be dangerous.
The development of GIM began in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s – the time of the “great stretch”. During this time there was tremendous momentum to explore outer space, and parallel with this, the need to explore the inner space of the human mind and levels of consciousness.
The American government funded two big research projects, one at Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in Baltimore and one at the famous Menninger Research Foundation. The aim of the research was to explore consciousness through the use of LSD. Subjects were terminally ill patients and LSD addicts. Music proved to be essential in the LSD experiments: It grounded clients throughout the rapid action of the drug and prevented a sense of getting lost, and at the same time provided dynamic movement, also when encountering blocks.
Very soon, all drug-related research in the USA were banned due to ethical considerations, but at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, Dr. Bonny had already established that certain musical pieces – when carefully selected and put into a certain order – without any drugs – could provide an experience similar to a drug journey (“trip”), complete with gradual entry, peak experience (“high”), and gradual exit. The musical experience and accompanying imagery, as well as the period of time just after the music stopped, were found to be particularly conducive to therapeutic interventions.
Dr. Helen Bonny researched music and imagery for many years, developed many GIM music programs, and is the founder of The Bonny Method of GIM. She was influenced by especially Carl Jung and transpersonal psychology, as well as humanistic psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.
Dr. Bonny passed away in 2010 at the age of 89, leaving a rich and well-established GIM legacy behind.
Currently, GIM is practiced in 29 states of the USA and in 25 other countries (in North America, South America, Eastern and Western Europe, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa). GIM practice and training are regulated by the Association for Music and Imagery (AMI), established in 1986. There are currently 20 AMI endorsed training programs in 8 different countries. AMI publishes the Journal of the AMI bi-annually, and has organized 32 international GIM conferences (see AMI website under LINKS for more information).
GIM is imbedded primarily in Jungian and transpersonal models of psychology, with roots in humanistic psychology.
Jung was the first modern psychiatrist who placed emphasis on the spiritual dimension of human life – he believed that spiritual experiences are crucial to our mental and physical well-being and growth. Jung is the founder of Analytical Psychology, where the central concept is individuation – a psychological process of transformation involving the integration of consciousness and unconsciousness while maintaining their relative autonomy – necessary for a person to become whole. A person’s main task is seen as discovering and fulfilling one’s innate potential.
Transpersonal psychology is known as the fourth wave force of psychology which, unlike the first three schools of psychology – psychoanalysis, behaviorism, humanistic psychology – that more or less ignore the transcended part of soul, rather integrates the whole spectrum of human development from pre-personality to trans-personality.
There are other methods of GIM, although The Bonny Method of GIM is probably the most established and comprehensive method. In South Africa, a different form of GIM – Short Music Journeys – is available in terms of workshops, therapy sessions and training.
Margareta Wärja, a Swedish GIM Fellow and Primary Trainer, developed the method of Short Music Journeys (SMJ) as an adaptation of The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music. SMJ involves listening to short selected pieces of music without being verbally guided, while the client is in a relaxed state. The structure of a SMJ is similar to a GIM session, and includes a discussion, setting an intention or focus, induction, music listening, and reflection through mandala drawing.
SMJ are used to make present situations more clear, explore current events, and find solutions to current problems. Margareta Wärja selected and combined a large number of specific short music pieces into three musical fields – that of Holding Music, Opening Music and Exploring Music.
- Holding music is reliable, gentle, not demanding, has no surprises and is easy to follow.
- Opening music opens the client to the possibility of facing something unknown, and is slightly more challenging than holding music.
- Exploring music is more complex, opens up further and offers space to travel in various directions.
SMJ workshops and training will be announced on the Home Page under News whenever available. Training involves a 4-day course with theoretical and practical aspects. Please contact us for more information.