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Guided Imagery and Music (The Bonny Method)



Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) in its original form was developed in the 1970s by Helen Bonny a music therapist working in the USA. Subsequently, a spectrum of GIM and Music and Imagery (MI) methods have been developed as discussed on a separate page.


Article by Helen Bonny on the method and its development


In its traditional form, GIM is a music-centred form of psychotherapy used to help clients with a wide range of psychological and emotional difficulties. This includes those suffering from anxiety and depression, who are bereaved, who are experiencing work related stress, have relationship difficulties, have been abused, have psychosomatic conditions, have problems with addiction, or have a life limiting condition such as Cancer. The Bonny Method is also an effective therapy for self-development. It is in many ways an ideal therapy for trainee music therapists and for musicians who want to explore, develop and deepen their relationship with music.


A individual GIM session involves the client listening to a 30 - 45 minute programme of classical music in a relaxed state, eyes closed, lying down. The client's imagery experience emerges as a manifestation of his or her inner process as this unfolds in response to the music. The therapist's (or guide's) role is to support the unfolding of the imagery in a non-directive way.

Article about what guiding means in GIM


Music is selected by the therapist that is intended to help shape, deepen and transform the client’s experience in a personally meaningful and therapeutically significant way. There are many different music programmes each with a different potential in the work. In fact clients experience even the same music differently on different occasions reflective of their current emotional state, life circumstance and evolving inner process. In this way the music used has an almost unlimited therapeutic potential. It can help clients discover unrealized inner resources, work through emotionally related difficulties and open to completely new areas of experiencing as may not otherwise be possible.


A video description of a GIM experience (Abrams)

Clients image in different ways so that the experience is not necessary or exclusively a visual one. It can involve other modalities such as smell or touch or be more body based. The narrative of the imagery may feature interaction with a familiar person, as much as it may be more mythic or transpersonal in nature. 


The Central Tenets of GIM: Consciousness and the Integration of Psychotherapy and Spirituality (Goldberg and Dimiceli-Mitran)


An underlying premise of the work is that healing and the answers to problems come from within. They are accessed through the experience of the music and of the imagery process generated in response to it. The client’s experience of the music itself can be especially significant:


The client who knows his difficulty also knows its answers, but the answers are marginalized, and irretrievable within him. It is up to the therapist to help the client surrender to the music so he can discover a meaningful response to his difficulty within it. The music actually serves this process as a complex container within which the client experiences the multilayered music and the multileveled consciousness of the therapist and himself. What the client hears coming from within the music is actually one of many of his own (previously irretrievable) answers projected onto the music. But once the client’s music experience deepens, he gains access to this particular answer from the music and this transforms his consciousness (Summer 2009: 309).



Session Structure


A classic individual GIM session lasts 1.5 to 2 hours and is structured in four parts:



This is a counselling type discussion to prepare for the 'music travel'. The therapist finds out how the client is feeling and about his or her difficulties. Rather than these being explored in depth verbally, this is done in the 'music travel' that follows.


Relaxation induction

The therapist gives a (verbal) progressive body relaxation to the client who is by now lying down, eyes closed on a reclining chair or couch. The therapist encourages the client to "let the music take you where you need to go".


Music travel

The client listens to the music programme (chosen by the therapist to help the client explore his or her feelings and issues) in this relaxed state. The therapist asks open questions to support the unfolding of the client's imagery experience (e.g. "what are you experiencing now", "can you describe it [an image that has emerged]", "how are you feeling", "how does the music sound"). The therapist writes down what the client says (the transcript). After the music has finished clients usually need a few minutes to 'return' to the room.



This may involve further creative exploration featuring mandala drawing or musical improvisation, for example. The client and therapist discuss the 'music travel' and what the client felt was most important about it. They discuss how the client may be able to take the experience and any insights gained into everyday life.

GIM can be effective in as little as 6 - 10 sessions, as well as in longer term work. The method can also be modified and integrated with other approaches as described on a separate page.

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