• Guided Imagery and Music 101

    Posted on February 20, 2015 by Jessica Ryan in Miscellaneous.


    ""“Music, as a structured envelope of sound, is probably the most effective and safe opener to the doors of the psyche. It reaches beyond personal defenses to the realities and beauties of the person. Music gives access to the discovery of inner strength, uncovers the potential for creativity, and manifests ways in which life can be lived from a center of inner security.[i]”

    Do you know who the quote above is from? If you answered Dr. Helen Bonny, you are correct! Dr. Bonny, a musician and psychotherapist, founded the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) in the 1970s. In GIM, music evokes mental imagery that clients use to explore personal beliefs and feelings. Trained facilitators meticulously select music and ask thought-provoking questions to allow clients to probe more deeply into the mind, express emotions, and find solutions to their problems.

    GIM sessions contain five stages: prelude, relaxation, focus or theme, music/imagery session, and postlude.[ii] First, facilitators listen to clients speak about their concerns and work with them to set session goals. Then, facilitators lead clients through relaxation exercises and recommend initial images from which to begin musical journeys. After facilitators put forth suggestions, clients listen to the chosen music, describe what they see, and share their feelings or ideas. Facilitators can ask questions like “Where are you right now?” or “What do you feel?” to help clients progress through sessions, but they let clients take the lead and determine the imagery.[iii] Once the musical programs conclude, facilitators help clients return to a normal state and make sense of their experiences.

    The musical program used during a session varies based on a client’s goals. Facilitators can choose a predetermined program, combine parts of existing programs, or improvise and create their own sessions. Originally, Dr. Bonny developed seven programs, including Imagery, a set of impressionistic music inspiring creativity, and Comforting-Analytic, a collection of music featuring cello and solo voices that promote feelings of support and compassion.[iv] Now there are over 100 programs, most of which use classical music from the Baroque period through the 20th century.

    Those designing programs choose music based on therapeutic, rather than artistic, merit. For instance, Dr. Bonny picked musical selections based on their ability “1) to encourage visual images, 2) to raise emotional and feeling states, 3) to suggest early memories, 4) to create positive feedback, 5) to effect physical relaxation, and 6) to support spiritual experience.”[v]

    If you find GIM interesting and think you might like to experience a session firsthand, there are several places where you can do so in the Pittsburgh area, including Music for Life of Pittsburgh, LLC; Music Journey, LLC; and Pittsburgh Integrative Mental Health, LLC. We have not worked with any of these organizations before, but please leave any recommendations for these or other GIM providers in the comments below!


    Photo Credit: “Colorful Mandala” by Marianna Spiritakis is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

    [i] “The Bonny Institute.”  Association for Music and Imagery.  Association for Music and Imagery,  n.d.  Web.  18 Feb. 2015.

    [ii] Bonny, Helen Lindquist.  “Music Psychotherapy: Guided Imagery and Music.”  Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy.  10.3  (2010) : n. pag.  Web.  19 Feb. 2015.

    [iii] “About Guided Imagery and Music (GIM).” GIM Trainings.  Institut Imago,  n.d.  Web.  18 Feb. 2015.

    [iv] Meadows, Tony.  “The Evolution of GIM Programming.”  Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy.  10.3  (2010) : n. pag.  Web.  19 Feb. 2015.

    [v] Bonny, Helen Lindquist.  “Music Psychotherapy: Guided Imagery and Music.”  Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy.  10.3  (2010) : n. pag.  Web.  19 Feb. 2015.

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