The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (BMGIM) is a source of joy and wonder; in many ways it is indescribable. The best way to fully appreciate what a BMGIM is and what it has to offer is to experience it. Unfortunately, this forum cannot provide the experience. Hopefully, the following explanation and description of this process will convey the excitement and privilege this author feels when engaged in a BMGIM session, either as client or therapist.
As a point of reference, a working definition of BMGIM is that it is a process that involves a client who is willing and able to explore his/her inner process, through carefully selected music, in an altered state of consciousness with a trained BMGIM therapist.
Classical BMGIM is a dyadic process, one in which the client and therapist are finely attuned to one another in individual sessions for the purpose of the client’s internal growth and expansion of life choices. Exploration may involve intrapersonal, interpersonal and/or transpersonal relationships. It is a holistic process that allows a person to tap into his/her rich inner world of imagery to explore all that s/he was, is and can be. It encourages the exploration of problems, issues, and strengths as well as hopes, fantasies and desires for the future. It is a multi-dimensional, integrative process in that the imagery and symbols that arise may be experienced on many levels at once, from the concrete to the abstract and from the very personal to the transpersonal. It is still amazing, after many years of working n BMGIM, how strong, creative, unique, and vibrant people are. BMGIM enables people to use all of these wonderful strengths to lead more creative, fulfilling lives.
In its individual form the BMGIM sessions takes approximately two hours. There is a natural flow of session components so that the whole session is experienced as a complete cycle that ebbs and flows according to the client’s needs. What follows is a description of each components of a classical session.
The Intake Interview
As with most therapeutic processes, the therapist takes a full history. Typically, it would include name, contact information (address, phone, email); date and place of birth; medical history; information about family of origin; present family; significant others, and friends; spiritual and religious beliefs; education and styles of learning; hobbies; previous and/or current therapy experience; life issues and goals; reasons for engaging in BMGIM; experience and knowledge of music and altered states of consciousness. In addition to the verbal intake, the therapist would make note of how the client reacts to inductions, altered state s, music, their imagery process, interventions made by the therapist, and processing techniques.
A description of the BMGIM sessions and experience helps the client know what to expect and gives the client the opportunity to ask questions. The therapist would introduce or review simple explanations of altered states of consciousness and imagery as experienced in BMGIM. The description of the session would include brief definitions of the preliminary conversation, induction, music listening period, and post-session integration.
In explaining a typical BMGIM experience, Bonny (1978) recommends giving the following suggestions (pp. 12-14):2
- Your inner self likes repetition.
- Music in a BMGIM session is programmatic.
- Try not to listen to music in an intellectual way.
- Feel free with your emotions.
- Feel free at any time to move your body to a more comfortable position.
- Commit yourself to any symbol or feeling that presents itself.
- Allow the movement and feeling of the music to take you from one scene to another.
- Finally, and most important, enjoy, enjoy.
As described by Bonny (1978), BMGIM was originally conceived as a contacted series of sessions, with six being the number initially proposed, with additional contracts made as needed. This is not always done in current BMGIM practice. Many therapists will suggest an initial session to “test the waters,” and then, if the client and therapist agree to continue, therapy work begins in earnest. While most therapists would agree that the periodic check-in sessions to evaluate progress are necessary, specific number of sessions are not always suggested.
Bonny (1978) describes this preliminary conversation as “an introductory dialogue which serves as a rapport function, (and) happens at each session when the client first enters the room (p, 16).” This is the time in which the client can relate to the therapist what has been going on since the last session, what issues are most pressing, and how she or he is feeling. The client may share dreams and artwork or writings that have been done. The therapist uses this portion of the session to assess what issues are most likely to come up in the music, and in what way or awareness level. Energy level of the client is carefully noted. The therapist is also assisting the client in focusing internally on the major themes to be addressed in the music. This is done verbally through the therapist’s body language and mirroring of the client’s affect and vocal patterns. All of these elements impact on the final statement of the induction and the choice of the music. This portion of the session may take approximately thirty minutes.
The induction, as Bonny (1978) conceived it, contained a physical relaxation of the musculature and a psychological concentration or focus on one stimulus to the exclusion of all other stimuli. The purpose of an induction is to help the client to screen out the external environment or process. This shift in focus in commonly known as an altered or alternative state of consciousness or ASC. It is important to note that there is not just one ordinary state and one altered state, but many levels and gradations of alternative states of consciousness or awareness. They are qualitative and quantitative shifts in the perceptions of time, space, and energy. We all enter these states throughout a day and a lifetime. Some examples of ASCs are daydreaming, intense concentration, prayer, medication, chemically induced ASCs (as with alcohol or drugs), sleep, dreaming, sensory deprivation or overload, creativity, unity, collective unconscious, and nirvana. The induction helps to induce or enhance the ASC and is also a very important introduction and link to the music.
Often this internal focusing actually begins long before the client reaches the therapy room. When many people first become aware that they have an appointment (for therapy), they start to focus more and more on what will occur there. Questions arise like: “What shall I wear?”; “When should I leave to get there on time?”; “What will I talk about today?”; “How do I feel about going?” The qualitative and quantitative shifts have already begun. They are screening out more of the external environment and becoming more aware of what they are experiencing internally. By the time they arrive for the session, they are already somewhat “altered.” The therapist continues to facilitate the internal focusing throughout the preliminary conversation, as well as the induction.
The final step in the induction is the fine-tuning of the preliminary information, the energy level in which is was presented, and the level of the ASC in which the work will be done to the music selected for the session. The therapist uses the information, affect, energy level, and knowledge of the client’s issues, imagery, language, and induction preference to compose the “induction.” Often, if the focusing has been accomplished in the preliminary conversation, not much more is required. The move into the music should flow naturally out of the therapist’s voice serving as the first musical sound of the music.
The Music Listening Period
“The music listening period involves three levels of experience: a prelude, a bridge and a heart or message.” (Bonny, 1978, p, 24) This part of the session may take from thirty to fifty minutes. The “prelude” is characterized by surface imagery that allows the client to make the necessary adjustments while entering altered states in relationship to the music, and to the personal issues that may be emerging as this happenes. The “bridge” is characterized by imagery or inner experiences that might enable the client to ascend or descend into deeper states of consciousness. The “heart” or message of the session contains the major themes and issues of the day’s internal work (Bonny, 1978).
Post-Session Integration or Postlude
When the client has completed the work with the music, the therapist assists the client in returning to a more externally oriented state. Some sessions lead to complete closure of an issue, but more often, the client comes to a comfortable stopping place knowing that more work with the issue(s) will continue.
The client now has the opportunity to review or creatively process the session. Awakening and learning to listen and understand the creative spirit’s symbolic language is one of the benefits of BMGIM. Therefore, processing is done most often in a creative modality. Some examples are artwork (mandala, clay, collage, etc.) writing (journaling, poetry, etc.) and verbal sharing, all of which may be used by the client between sessions as well as in the postlude.
The process of change continues even if the client does not use any of the techniques mentioned above, but many clients find them beneficial, enjoyable, and healing. The postlude also serves the very important function of continuing to assist the client to a more externally focused state. Payment and scheduling of the next session are usually conducted at the end of the postlude. The postlude takes approximately one half hour.
The author believes that BMGIM is the use of music as therapy and that the music is actually the primary therapist. The human co-therapist serves as facilitator for the client-music relationship. This does not mean that the human therapist is unimportant. In a session, it is the human therapist who chooses the music and makes verbal and nonverbal interventions. Some people describe BMGIM as a nondirective form of therapy, but this may not be entirely true. The music chosen has traditionally been Western classical music, which in the author’s opinion, is directive in nature. The music can push or pull, comfort or stimulate. Certainly the interventions are direction, no matter how non-directive they can be in wording. Even the blandest “uh huh” is timed and spoken for a reason and in response to a particular image. This does impact on how the client receives the music and the intervention. What is important to note is that the therapist is not actively guiding the client (choosing where to go, how long to stay, or what to do), but facilitating the client’s interaction with the music and his/her own imagery.
During the music portion of the session, the client is lying on a couch or mat and is relating verbally and nonverbally what she or he is experiencing. The therapist, sitting next to the client, maintains contact through his/her presence and verbal interventions. The verbal interventions are intended to facilitate, support, and/or deepen the experiences evoked and shaped by the music in interaction with the client’s imagination. Thus, well-timed, verbal interventions are an integral part of the session, but generally less formative or transformative than the music itself. This process of verbally interacting with the client while relating to the music has been called “guiding;” perhaps “facilitating” might be a more appropriate word.
Some of the techniques Bonny (1978) recommended to be used in guiding are to support and encourage the client to: (1) act or react to the images; (2) encounter and work through images of resistance; (3) have emotional or feeling responses; and (4) have body responses.
Occasionally, physical interventions are warranted. When they are, care must be taken to ask the client’s permission or inform the client before doing so (Bonny 1978). Eyeshades and earphones were originally suggested, and may still be used.
The therapist chooses music that will allow, support, and deepen the client’s work. Some BMGIM therapists are more inclined to present an entire program of music, that is, a program that has been predesigned and contains a number of selection. The objective here is to facilitate the client’s exploration of a particular given musical environment. Other therapists choose to follow the client wherever the client goes, thus making music choices as the client progresses through the session. An entire predesigned program may be used if it is supportive of the work, or a new individualized program maybe created in the moment. In both cases, the music is the environment, the catalyst and a dynamic partner in the client’s work. Each client, and indeed the same client on different days, will approach and interact with the music differently. The client may relate to any number of the musical elements and in different states or levels of awareness. In effect, as the client changes, the music changes and vice versa.
In order for a client to move deeply into an ASC and his or her inner process, the therapist must be comfortable with, and knowledgeable about the issues raised. The therapist must be able to maintain his focus on the client while “simultaneously and continually evaluating the effectiveness of the many elements in the situation: the musical selection being played, the music’s mood, the client’s physical and emotional reactions, what the client is verbally reporting; and what is being communicated physically and emotionally in the moments between the client’s verbal reports; what has led up to this point in the music session; how current BMGIM material relates to former sessions; how it relates to the goals of treatment.” (Bonny, 1978, p. 41) And the therapists must do all this while taking a written transcript of the session!
“No interpretation of imagery is given by the guide during the session, or afterward. Essentially, the healing of the personality proceeds through the music as catalyst, and through the allowing, persuasive attitude of the guide.” (Bonny, 1978, p.20)
Summary and Conclusions
BMGIM was originally conceived as a process to enable normal, healthy, ego intact individuals to experience, explore, and expand inner reality. As Bonny (1978) stated: “The best GIM subjects are persons well-motivated for treatment, whose belief system allows for a new and innovative approach.” (p.43) As individual BMGIM grew, in addition to touching expansive and transpersonal states, clients entered into areas of concern and trauma. The wonder and joy of BMGIM is that it is a truly holistic process that allows for integration of the traumas and the ecstasies. It supports the integration of mind, body, and spirit, and teaches a new way of using the creativity inherent in us all.” In this, GIM is consonant with Humanistic Psychology as espoused by Maslow (1971), Rogers (1961), and Rollo May (1967), and with transpersonal aspects of the total person (Assagioli, 1965).” (Bonny, 1978, p. 46)
Most BMGIM therapist come to this process with professional experience in some healing or therapy work. It is advisable and recommended that the therapist first learn and practice the BMGIM process as it applies to the “normal, healthy, and/or neurotic” adult populations. Then adaptations may be tried with other populations or in setting in which the therapist has experience.
1 Excerpted from: Kenneth Bruscia and Denise Grocke, (2002). Guided Imagery and Music: The Bonny Method and Beyond. Barcelona Publishers, University Park, IL, pp.29-35.