The Flute and I: The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) with a Young Man

By Gro Trondalen



To allow oneself to be in GIM therapy
may entail renewed access to personal strength and personal resources.
To allow one’s own participation in GIM therapy
can gain access to personal pain and shortcomings.
To allow one’s own participation in GIM therapy
may result in a renewed love for the music and its inexhaustible reservoirs.
Through participation in GIM therapy life does not
lose its pain – or its beauty – or cease to be brimming with music – but
through personal participation in GIM therapy life may be acknowledged or recognized in several ways
and lead to further explorations of one’s inner rooms – to be tasted and tested in real life –
This is how GIM travelling was
for Lars


This article focuses the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music, henceforth referred to as GIM. GIM is a method of listening, which places the music experience front and centre (Bonny, 1978). Listening to music the GIM way may serve to awaken memories and associations as well as help maintain certain moods and emotions, thus reaching out to the human being in a variety of manners. The structure of the music may form a supporting framework, encapsulating the broad spectrum of experiences that may happen during GIM. The therapy combines active music listening with relaxation, visualisation and conversation and affords the opportunity for listening experiences to take place on several levels of one’s consciousness. The therapist and the client sort out the various images of the mind, bodily feelings, emotions, thoughts and memories, which may arise during GIM in addition to dealing with the altered state of consciousness the therapy affords. These inner experiences are referred to as images (Goldberg 2002, p.360) and may in turn be related to various modes of experience as well as to several different levels, e.g. a kinetic/sensory level, a perceptual/affective level and a cognitive/symbolic level (see e.g. Bonde, 2000).

One does not need any intimate knowledge of or special expertise in classical music to benefit from GIM. Music listening of this kind has proven to be effective both as long-term and short-term therapy as the music itself forms a safe as well as an esthetical framework for any psychological changing processes: among others through an increased access to personal creative resources (e.g. Bonde, 2002; Grocke, 1999; Körlin & Wrangsjö, 2002; Moe, Roesen & Raben, 2000; Thöni, 2002; Trondalen & Oveland, 2008).[1] GIM therapy applies Western classical music, with a repertoire reaching from the baroque to the 20th century. The sessions are designed as programs of about 30 to 45 minutes duration (Bonny, 2002, 1978; Bruscia & Grocke, 2002).

This text is based on a thirteen month individual therapy process with a young man renamed Lars in this text.[2] He partook in seventeen GIM sessions, all of which are accounted for in this article. I thereafter focus one session, which turned out to have special significance to the client (cf. “appropriate selection”, Hammersley & Atkinson, 1996). A detailed transcription of the session follows. It is this session that first and foremost forms the core of the discussion, spotlighting the question: In what way may the client’s personal “image” – a flute – in the course of GIM therapy contribute to a greater sense of coherence when dealing with his challenges in life? In addition the data from the sessions, self-reflexive notes, taken immediately following each session, are also included. At the end of the case study, I make a summing up, including examining the therapist’s role, and propose further research opportunities before an Epilogue.

Theoretical Orientation of the Therapist

I find a subject-subject relationship between the client and the therapist to be of great significance in GIM and thus accommodate this as the main frame of reference for therapy. This entails an equal interrelation where both parties are able to influence the interaction. In my opinion this point of view is satisfactorily synopsized in the description of the human being as homo communicans (Christoffersen, 1995).[3] In this lies that the human being finds his or her leniency, a fellow feeling and a humanitarian compassion through mutual kinship and companionship with others. This in turn entails communicating with others in some manner and by this partaking as well as contributing to the lives of others. I thus claim that the relational dimensions of social fraternisation between human beings are decisive and significant to whom we are as persons.

Moreover, the relationship between client and therapist also includes the music itself, which functions as a co-therapist throughout the GIM session (Skaggs, 1992). From this follows the clinical theory is informed by new development in relational psychology that highlights the intersubjective perspective (Trondalen, 2008; Benjamin, 1990; Thorsteinsson, 2000; Stern, 2000). My philosophical orientation and positioning is therefore funded in a humanistic research tradition and focussing the clients personal resources (Ruud, 2010). The latter is the source and starting point of all growth and development within therapy. Thus, the client’s own images form the backbone of therapy-related experiences. Further work stems from these images and entails integrating the experiences from therapy into the challenges of one’s daily life. This further implicates the therapist’s role as a ”Fellow Traveler” (Yalom, 2002), albeit one with facilitating and supporting qualities throughout the sessions. Yalom writes (Ibid., p.8):

Instead I prefer to think of my patients and myself as fellow travelers, a term that abolishes distinctions between ”them” (the afflicted) and ”us” (the healers) [ …] We are all in this together and there is no therapist and no person immune to the inherent tragedies of existence.

It is important to note that travelling as companions as described does not entail any refusal of responsibility on the therapist’s or the client’s part. A therapy relationship will necessarily involve one who assumes the role of the helper and one who is in need of help of some kind (Bruscia, 1989). To reject this thought – clinically – is in my opinion to neglect one’s responsibility as a therapist. Neither the client nor the therapist, are able to freely step in and out of the relation in question. This means that the therapist is expected to be available at all times to the other’s (as well as own) initiative –expressed through a present and attentive interaction. This attitude also offers musically creative and esthetical challenges. The aim is however to try to see the situation in question from the other person’s perspective. This happens through one’s own imagination and empathy, all the while maintaining personal base and integrity. I would also like to point out that even though the aim of the relationship is equality, the therapist and the client do have different roles in the GIM process, as the therapy situation first and foremost concerns the client’s process and not that of the therapist. I nevertheless would like to point out that although the relationship is unsymmetrical it has to find its basis in some kind of reciprocity, albeit an incomplete one and lacking of certain aspects. It is against this backdrop I suggest that an empathic and musical relating presence may be recognized as intersubjectivity from a theoretical point of view (Thorsteinsson, 2000).

This has several practical ramifications, e.g. a turn towards a humanistic tradition. Within this tradition it is perhaps Carl Rogers (in Hougaard, 1996) who most strongly advocates the significance of universal human aspects within a client-therapist relation. Rogers has, stemming from his phenomenological-existential position, drawn out certain aspects of therapeutic change, which he finds indispensible. These core conditions are: the necessity of maintaining an undisputable positive view, an emphatic understanding and a communication of the client’s qualities towards him or her. The elements are parts of the wider term “the therapeutic alliance” (Ibid., p. 137 ff.) within recent research on necessary and sufficient factors of psychotherapy. I find this attitude convergent with “The Basic Premises of GIM”, where the therapy is described as “… a music-centred exploration of consciousness leading to integration and wholeness” (Bonny in Clark, 2002b, p. 22).


The Client

Lars was a resourceful and able family father who during the therapy period had young children at home. His long and academic education included music studies. Lars stemmed from a strong and accomplished family where the role of both music and academic knowledge were important ones. The relationship with a paternal grandfather, who passed away several years ago, was of particular significance to the client. The grandfather was proficient in art and grandfather and grandchild thus had much in common.

Lars’ initial reason to partake in GIM therapy was one of curiosity. As he became more familiar with the doings of music therapy however, he expressed a wish to continue with GIM. He claimed the therapy is advantageous and valuable to his life and that he benefit from it. The GIM therapy was under constant evaluation by both Lars and the therapist throughout the therapy process and the client knew that he could end GIM at any time should he want to. The GIM process eventually turned out to be of thirteen month’s duration, amounting to a total of seventeen sessions.

Lars had a good ear. He sung and played several instruments, although his primary interest and knowledge was of the flute. He composed lyrics and melodies and regularly used the piano to express his thoughts and emotions. Music was an integral part of his life and could be said to be a clear and active channel to convey or reveal his inner feelings. It might seem as if expressing emotions within a musical context came easy to Lars.

Lars took – and needed – a long time to find words that expressed his feelings satisfactorily. His words tended to “get stuck” on their way out. The client was prone to spend his energy unevenly during his daily life and tended to take on too large a workload for him to handle. As a result he spent many days with a “burned out” and exhausted feeling and struggled with dark thought.

The client seemed to hold back somewhat concerning his own inner emotions and thoughts. That Lars to a certain degree maintained a closed facade in life came to be a recurring theme throughout the therapy. Key themes and foci in GIM therapy could be described through dichotomies such as autonomy-relation, visible-invisible, clever-stupid, life-death, the desire to be seen-claiming one’s space. Lars’ therapy process eventuated in him acknowledging himself as just himself, thus allowing others to take in both the good and the less exemplary facets of his personality. In turn Lars came to appreciate the good and the lesser qualities in others, i.e. his fellow men and women and all their human and imperfect features.

The facets of life, which Lars found particularly painful to examine, turned out to be the very ones triggered during GIM therapy. The music experiences, however, allowed the necessary space for Lars to work with and through these areas of his life. He therefore chose to continue the therapy and found he was able to find his new paths through the painful areas and work out personal solutions when faced with difficulties of various natures. During the GIM process, he was able to absorb and digest life with all its dimensions – embracing his own life stories and his experiences.

Implementation and Accomplishment

GIM was carried out within a classical individual format. One GIM session, lasting 1½ - 2 hours, consisted of a pre-conversation (prelude), which often ended with a theme/an image metaphorically representing the starting point of the journey. This image could also present itself as the music commenced. The initial conversation formed a basis for the therapist’s choice of music. Before the music listening itself the therapist led the client through several relaxing exercises, focusing specific muscle groups as well as the body as a whole. During the music listening experience the client was lying down, sharing his experience of the music. The therapist’s main task was here to listen sensitively to the music and the listener’s response to it and through a supportive and non-controlling verbal intervention help the client to allow his inner thoughts and experiences to emerge and to stay close to them in order to feel the full impact of the experience (Grocke, 2005b, p. 46). The therapist would write down the listener’s own words describing his experiences, emotions and images throughout the musical journey. This transcription original was given to the client at the end of the session, whereas the therapist would keep a copy of it. The duration of the music listening was generally between 30 and 50 minutes. Following the listening Lars would draw (cf. “mandala”, Kellogg, Rae, Bonny, & Leo, 1977), something that centred the music experience and was a starting point for the verbal post-conversation (postlude).

Lars once improvised on the piano in order to regain his focus before commencing his journey. The theme of the journey became clear to him after 4-5 minutes of improvisation. During session #11 Lars spent the entire session improvising in this manner. It is important to note that music processed afterwards through drawing and conversation therefore was the improvised music and not the therapist’s music choice.

An Overview over 17 GIM sessions

The music program used in each session is marked with italics. For a closer scrutiny of the music, see Guided Imagery and Music: The Bonny Method and Beyond. (Grocke 2002, pp.99-133; Bruscia & Grocke 2002, Appendix B, pp. 555-562).

Session #1
Caring; Haydn: Cello Concerto in C (Adagio), Puccini: Madame Butterfly (Humming Chorus), Debussy: String Quartet (Andantino), Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Shepherd’s Song), Dvorak: Serenade in E Major (Larghetto), Warlock: Capriol Suite (Pieds an l’air)
Extension: From Caring; Puccini: Madame Butterfly (Humming Chorus)
Trees, forest, loneliness, the leaves on the trees have hands, nursing school, a headache, being pulled in two directions by one magnet on each side, just want to be good.
Session #2
Nurturing; Brittan: Simple Symphony (Sentimental Sarabande), Walton: Touch her soft lips and part, Faure: Cantique de Jean Racine, Faure: Requiem (Pie Jesu), Puccini: Madame Butterfly (Humming Chorus), Massenet: Orchestral Suite # 7 (sous les Tileuls), Schumann: Fünf Stuck im Volkston Op. 102 (Langsam)
Extension: From Mostly Bach; Bach, Concerto for Two Violins, mvt 2
Image of origin
”In water”.
Water, a statue unable to move, the statue breaks and burst and turns into plates, Lars is transformed into a merman with indefinite possibilities.
Session #3
Relationships; Pierne, Consertstuck für Harp, Rachmaninoff: 2nd symfony (Adagio), Respighi: Fontains of Rome (Valle Guilia), Respighi: Fontains of Rome (Valle Medici)
Image of origin
“By the water where he grew up”
Dancing ballet alone on a stage, in the audience are paper dolls (some people he recognizes), sad and exhausted, the stage shrinks until it is a small puppetry he can play with, both tears and laughter can be heard in the theatre, “although life may be hard to bear it may also be great fun”, there needs to be room for play as well as other things in life.
Session #4
Solace; Haydn: Cello Concerto in C (Adagio), Sibelius: Swan of Tuonela, Boccerini: Cello Concerto in B-flat (Adagio), Russian Folk Songs: O the Steppes, Russian Chant for Vespers: The Joy of Those who Mourn, Dvorak: Serenade in E (Larghetto).
Extension: From Pastorale; Grieg: Cradle Song.
Trees moving although the client cannot hear their sounds, ”visiting himself” during a sleepover at his grandmother’s house, afraid, the music gave voice to his anxiety, going home, the sounds returned because he had done what he set out to do; facing the fear straight on.
Session #5
From Relationships; Chopin: 1st Piano concerto (Romance), Rachmaninoff: 2nd Symphony (Adagio), from Solace; Russian Folk Songs: O the Steppes, Russian Chant for Vespers: The Joy of Those who Mourn; Dvorak: Serenade in E (Larghetto), from Caring: Warlock: Capriol Suite (Pieds an l’air).
Silk scarf, blue, the silk cloth is split in two at its end and resembles two legs, living tree, is both the scarf and the tree, dead tree, he is the scarf although he did not notice beforehand.
Session #6
Mostly Bach; Bach: Passacaglia & Fugue in c minor, Bach: Come Sweet Death, Bach: Partita in b minor (Sarabande), Bach: Fugue in g minor (The Shorter), Brahms: Violin Concerto (Adagio), Bach: Concerto for Two Violins (Largo ma non troppo).
Is still and strong, crawls, the body expands, the one who is standing and the one who crawls stretch out their hands towards one another, the one who is crawling helps the one who is standing.
Session #7
Caring; Haydn: Cello Concerto in C (Adagio), Puccini: Madame Butterfly (Humming Chorus), Debussy: String Quartet (Andantino), Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Shepherd’s Song), Dvorak: Serenade in E Major (Larghetto), Warlock: Capriol Suite (Pieds an l’air)
The colour blue, longing, the music balances, cannot get close to the music, no need to be afraid, the music is taking care of him, getting warm.
Session #8
A conversational session ending with a circle drawing:
The conversation included the questions:
  • Where are we now – where do we go from here – with or without GIM?
  • What are the ramifications of no more GIM in terms of opportunities and limitations?
  • What is the worst or the best that may happen by continuing the GIM exploration of self?
  • What may be said about the therapeutic effects in the past and in the future?
  • An overview of several possible scenarios involving a continuation of GIM
  • The issue of trust in the client-therapist relation in GIM
  • Through which media are Lars comfortable expressing himself?
  • What significance does GIM hold for Lars today?
Session #9
Mostly Bach; Bach: Passacaglia & Fugue in c minor, Bach: Come Sweet Death, Bach: Partita in b minor (Sarabande), Bach: Fugue in g minor (The Shorter), Brahms: Violin Concerto (Adagio), Bach: Concerto for Two Violins (Largo ma non troppo).
Rest, life is dramatic, the sense of not losing oneself but still being pulled in several directions at once, a solid wall unable to be moved, says to his head “watch out”, heads without body are like waste, backdrop (scene) to be pulled up and down, senses within his body that life is more than difficulties and pain, enjoys that life is simple and easy.
Session # 10
Transitions; Borodin: 1st Symphony (Andante), Brahms: 3rd Symphony (Poco allegretto), Beethoven: 9th Symphony (Adagio molto e cantabile), Brahms: 2nd Piano Concerto (Andante piu Adagio)
Yellow and hot, movement, contrasts, face pain, turns into the music and the client himself spreads out within the music.
Session #11
Own music played on the piano. The lyrics are made by Lars and presented below:
Miles and miles of trees
Houses, yet no one arrives
Far away in a forest
No one arrives
This is a little song (x)
No one can take it away
No one can ever take it away
From me
Images and conversation
GIM is a mental project to Lars, guilt, and no one can ever take away the song; he wants to get to know his own house (i.e. identity).
Session #12
Mozart: Grand Partita, serenade for 13 woodwinds; from Grieving - R/M: Albinoni: Oboe Concerto in d minor, Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in a minor.
The Music, sees his passed away maternal grandmother, sad, worry about the future, the music, a sense of powerlessness. Composes music and lyrics.
Session #13
From Mostly Bach: Bach: Passacaglia & Fugue in c minor, then Mozart: Grand Partita, Serenade for 13 woodwinds, from Grieving -R/M: Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in a-minor.
Broken trees, cones on the ground, the cones rise up off the ground, needs time to get into the earth, a sense of space around him.
Session #14
Mythic Journey
Image of origin
“Feeling the feelings” – Lars chose the blue colour – therapist induction on bodily grounding towards the surface of the mattress.
#1 Williams: Oboe Concerto (Minuet and Musettte)
Flute – I’m laying – in an empty room – the flute has been assembled –
#2 Bartôk: Concerto for Orchestra (Elegia)
Waves of colour touch the flute – yellow – red – green – blue – they move in horizontal waves – the flute suddenly stands up – the flute is standing among the colours – the colours surround the flute – strange – nothing tight – no fabric – only colour – [where are you?] – I’m inside a large glass square – in the middle of the square is the flute standing up – I’m inside watching – [how does it feel to be there?] – like I’m watching something that can be seen – [explore] – like the glass bulb really is invisible from the outside – exciting and the sense that I am – significant moment
#3 Ennio Morricone: Mission Soundtrack; Gabriel’s Oboe
I can’t touch it – only describe it – [do you want to touch it?] – the colours are beginning to move again now – they are sticking themselves on the glass wall – getting on the glass – then they mix – the black goes away then – when the entire glass bulb is filled with colours the flute is ready to be played – don’t know how it’s supposed to get out – now – it’s coming
#4 Hovhaness: Meditation on Orfeus
All the walls are all filled with colour – no glass any more only colour – the colours are moving again and are expanding the room – small opening – out there it’s blue – blue sky – I can now walk over and grab the flute – [are you?] – yes – I’m beginning to walk – exciting – I will lead the flute to the outside – don’t know what’s happening – all I see is blue sky – a blue sky is overwhelming – scary – everything has stopped – everything is waiting – I can take all the time I want – notice grass and trees there – a world – don’t know whether the flute can come all the way out – I have to chose now – don’t know what’s happening to the colours behind me – if I have regrets I can’t go back and between something that is nothing
#5 Mussorsky: Pictures at an Exhibition. The Hut on Fowl’s Legs
Standing in the middle– right in between getting bigger – the world is disappearing – the colours one way – the world the other – all that is left is the flute and me – I couldn’t choose – the darkness is getting bigger and bigger
#6 Mussorsky: Pictures at an Exhibition: The Great Gate of Kiev
Have an urge to go outside – can bring the flute then – [bring whatever you like] – if I go outside the flute has to stay – I thought I had let the flute down – sad – the flute remains inside the glass bulb – the flute is where it belongs
#7 Duruflé: Requiem (In Paradisum)
More glass cubes – I’m seeing everything from high up above – they are floating around there – [where are you?] – high up in the air – like I have to wait for the next time – know it can happen again – [what is it like?] – I can reconcile myself with it – it’s quite alright – I will have the opportuniy again
#8 Ennio Morricone: Mission Soundtrack (Gabriel’s Oboe, Second rendition)
See a light in the large hole – I’m on my way home – leaving the enormous room
#9 Stravinsky: Firebird Suite ( Finale)
[Where are you now?] – I’m not quite there yet – I hear voices – back in reality – no one can see where I’ve been
Session #15
From Grieving - R/M; Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in a-minor, then Mozart: Grand Partita, Serenade for 13 woodwinds, from Positive Affect; Brahms: Requiem Part 6, from Caring; Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Shepherd’s Song) and Warlock: Capriol Suite (Pieds an l’air)
Complete quiet, good kind of quiet, my grandfather’s living room, Lars is sitting on the floor, grandfather says: don’t think that anything in life is a coincidence. Lars answers: I’m glad you said that – I’m glad you talked to me – I’m glad you were here waiting for me – I’m glad you took the time to wait for me. Says goodbye to his grandfather, figuring out why his grandfather always mattered a great deal to him, it is so easy: “Grandfather had a presence in a waiting”.
Session #16
From Mostly Bach; Bach: Fugue in g minor (The Shorter), and Mozart (Woodwind quintet), from Mostly Bach; Bach: Concerto for Two Violins (Largo ma non troppo).
A room with walls and a roof, never been there before, a high ceiling, a chair in the room, sits down and rests, slumps a little bit with his leg pulled up under him
Session #17
Relationships; Pierne, Consertstuck für Harp, Rachmaninoff: 2nd symfony (Adagio), Respighi: Fontains of Rome (Valle Guilia), Respighi: Fontains of Rome (Valle Medici)
A cone embedded in a cylinder, squeezed so that the colours are blended within, the cylinder is changing forming itself into the shape of a movable body, facets of colour, movement about a dancer unable to perform the same step twice, the colours are dissolving and becoming a single colour, everything turns into water, an indefinite surface, the water is retracting and turning compact and hard.


In this discussion I will first and foremost examine session #14, which turned out to be central to Lars and his GIM process. Consequently, the focus on the remaining GIM sessions in the therapy is de-emphasized.

Throughout this text I include my own reflections and log notes stemming from the therapy. When pointing to relevant literature on GIM I discovered an interesting aspect of this case. Lars travelled to the program “Mythic Journey” during session #14. In my opinion this session is a significant turning point for Lars, i.e. a journey during which he became more coherent and clearly outlined to himself. I searched for relevant literature and cross-examined several sources to prepare my discussion. It is through this work I realize that my programmed version of the Mythic Journey is identical to the Mythic Journey One (Clark, 2002a). Mythic Journey One is called The Hero’s Journey. For some reason this phenomenon had escaped my attention until now. To discover that session #14, which was an important one – turned out to be a hero’s journey – had emerged from a purely phenomenological point of view (Trondalen, 2007) was also interesting to me.

I will begin this discussion by turning to notes and reflections taken down immediately after ended session. Then session #14 is object to scrutiny as concerns possible links and parallels to phases included in Hero’s Journey, followed by a centering of levels of experiences during a GIM journey. I have then chosen to take a closer look at the flute as a symbol to round up the discussion.

The Music Therapist's Immediate Notes Following the Session

Lars says that it is like a camera saw the enormous room. He himself states that he was able to “feel the feeling” (cf. the journey’s starting point) and is both proud of and happy about that. The flute came out into the light, he says, but he had to leave it. That did not matter as he knew he could go back and retrieve it. Lars is concerned with the large, open rooms and the dimensions of it all. The colours are complimentary and tend to blend. He claims that the flute “IS FEELINGS”. It now feels like there is plenty of space inside him, although this room is closed from the outside. He wanted to step out of the room and did so, but still had a sense of letting his flute down. He “could always come back later”, he said with a smile.
The pre-conversation was a long one. I intuitively chose Mythic Journey. He had not previously travelled to this music. Lars’ theme was “feeling the feeling”. The focus of the initial relaxing exercises was to stay inside the body and a blue colour soon manifested within Lars. We discussed the flute as a theme before the journey. He wanted to bring the flute and play some music for me – but did not. All in all it was an optimistic journey. Lars dared to recognize the large black, which kept getting bigger. He felt that he was enough in control to be able to live with it and deal with it. There was a sad period during the journey when he was sure he had lost the flute, which he had not! It was only hidden somehow. “The Insecurity and the Divide” is perhaps still present within? He has however dared to touch on these phenomena, which seem to be underlying themes within him. Much is perhaps centred on recognition of own anxiety and anger. Were the two originating in a lack of wanted (and required!) recognition during his childhood and adolescence?

Parallels Phases in the Hero's Journey

(Clark, 1995; 2002a)

The call to adventure

During the oboe concerto the flute quickly emerges with several colours. The client finds himself inside a large glass square. He claims it is exciting and describes a feeling of a significant moment.

Crossing the threshold

The colours start to move and Lars walks over and takes flute. Everything is overwhelming, but the client takes his time.

For trials and task

The world and the colours split up. He is left with the flute. The darkness expands.

Reaching the Nadir

Has a feeling of betrayal but recognizes that the flute must stay where it belongs.

Receiving the Boon

Sees not only one but several glass bulbs. He knows the experience may be repeated and that everything is alright.


Sees a great light, leaves the enormous room and is on his way back home.


Feels that he has not yet arrived but has come back to reality where he is met by several voices. Carries his secret with him inside (cf. “no one knows where I have been”).

Lars later told that his hero’s journey reappeared in his mind's eye during another journey in his car, and described it as a strengthening and important experience. He also told about this GIM experience (images) to his wife. It may thus be argued that Lars is now living out his own hero’s myth both alone and in company. He allows himself to become the hero of his own life and voices this to another fellow human being. He embraces the experience and allows it to give him strength. The myth may thereby contribute to a new “couples’ myth”, where both parties may add their interpretations and emotions to their relationship, i.e. be both separate and together simultaneously (Stern, 2000; Trondalen, 2004). A public story of this kind (i.e. both the conversations during the GIM session and his conversations with his wife, is in my opinion a good means to create what Stern (2000) names the client’s narrative self in new and positive ways.

Experience Levels

The various experience levels within this journey vary: they take place both inside and on the outside of the client. Seen from a psychodynamic perspective Bonny points to Hanks and argues that the aim of the entire GIM process is to establish a connection with one’s sub-conscious (Bonny, 2002, p. 134):

[…] in which the ego holds its own reality while allowing the unconscious to do the same … The music allows release of ego control and gives permission to move from outer to inner stimuli.

Without discussing the underlying subconscious theory further it seems natural to argue that Lars through his journey connected closely to sub-conscious sides of his personality unbeknownst to himself. He also seemed to have integrated these sides naturally into his own consciousness – e.g. the flute is a part of me but allowing myself to leave it now is not a problem as I may return later.

When discussing the various levels of experience (Bonde & Moe, 2003, p. 39; Moe, 2000) and dissimilar experiences of music and images in GIM (Grocke, 1999), Lars connected with several during his therapy. Some good examples occur in:

Level A: a flow of picture. During the journey the images seem to present themselves flowing by, he feels like a spectator and a part of the flowing images and colours also.

Level B: historic psychological level presents the following examples: Lars becomes an actor (he takes the flute) and is no longer only a spectator, senses that he always has a choice, allows himself to leave the flute and touches on both sorrow and happiness.

Level C: mythic/abstract/transpersonal level presents the following interesting images: Lars is inside the glass bulb and senses that he can see something others cannot; the room is presenting him with a small opening and he can see the blue sky outside. The blue sky is here understood as a glimpse of light bringing life, energy and strength, i.e. an aiding power.

As to level D: integrating spiritual/nonmaterial level I refer to e.g. that Lars experiences this as near sacred as an illustration – a reconciliation with himself and with his choices and his emotions. This harmonization contributed to him feeling certain that he would be able to return to the flute and to the GIM experience, should he want to.

One possible way to interpret this may be through a Jungian lens, seeing the fusion as a way Lars’ inner “Shadow/shadow sides” are approaching each other. That is that the unconscious facets of his person were given more space to move, consequently becoming acceptable (both positive and negative) parts of himself (Ward, 2002).

Another interpretation may be connected to Lars’ experience of self-agency (Stern, 2000), that interpersonal experience of being able to influence personal life such as returning to the flute and the experience in itself. Such a development within this domain of relating, deals with both the feeling of being in sync with the therapist/music and the experience of being able to influence within the music listening journey (cf. agency). Accordingly, meaning and sense of coherence are connected to action and experience. This means Lars was able to organize experiences from the journey together with the therapist as a self regulating others; an episodic memory based on patterns and continuity. The self regulative other may function both stimulating and moderating in accordance with what is possible to share at an interpersonal level. These sense of a core self are agency, self-coherence, self-affectivity and self-history (memory) identified as Self-Invariants (Ibid., p. 7). Transferred to Lars’ situation would be that the client experiences that the interplay in the journey is based on repetitions and variations. When Lars recognizes what patterns and unities are repeated cross-modal to the variations, self-invariants are created (Stern, 1995, pp.76). It is these experiences of self with others (i.e. the music and the therapist) which are building blocks for self esteem, pictures and senses or a generalized memory. When theses memories are awaken, there is space for what Stern calls an “evoked companion” (Stern, 2000, p.111). That is the memory of a self regulating other.

It is through a sensitive and regulating affect attunement towards this inner system of information, the individual may afford to modulate transitions between different states of minds (Stern et al., 1985; Trondalen & Skårderud, 2007). Through new and attuned beneficial (here: musical) experiences earlier memories of old interactions are now subject to influence, i.e. beneficial experiences of interplay in the music listening are updated and stored, and can be mentally put forward and provide competence in other situations (like in Representation of Interaction being Generalized and Lived Story (RIGs), Stern, 1995, p.94).

The Flute as a Symbolic Instrument

The terms image, metaphor and symbol holds great significance within GIM. According to Goldberg “Imagery” or “image” refer to ”experiences of music during the listening phase of GIM, including images in all sensory modalities, kinaesthetic images, body sensations, feelings, thoughts and noetic images (an intuitive sense of imaginal events that arise outside of other imagery modes) (Goldberg, 2002, p. 360). Metaphor may here be understood as “a figure of speech that is used to indicate resemblance between phenomena“ (Compton’s Dictionary, in Bonde, 2001). It encompasses thus a figurative term, inspiring an analogue/abstract meaning. A symbol on the other hand, stems from the Greek sumbolon, sumballein – i.e. something that is thrown or joined together. The original meaning of the word refers to a ‘sign’ tying together two objects, two persons or even groups of human beings, making them stand together as refined parts of a whole (Rønnow, 2004).

I will in the following review the flute from session #14 as a symbol forming a uniting bridge between Lars’ inner circumstances and dealings with the outside world. I also wish to comment shortly on the symbolic opportunities of the flute as I find it of importance in this context. Lars’ first instrument is the flute – he did not however play it frequently as piano or guitar often took its place.

Instruments in music and music therapy may function differently on numerous levels: a) as a concrete and physical means of expression (non-referential), b) as an extension of an affect (referential), c) as an extension of the human body or d) as a symbol carriers at different levels. Additionally, several elements may influence the experience of playing it and listening to it, i.e. the material of the instrument, its size, the way it appears (its form, colour), its texture and its timbre (Trondalen, 2010). These elements are identified as important both within music therapeutic assessment and in clinical music therapy within psychiatry and in the special education field (see e.g. Bunt, 1994; De Backer, 1999; Eckhoff, 1997).

Personally, I see the voice as a bridge between intra- and interpersonal relations. Through audible sound the human being becomes visible in its world, visible in a larger sense than merely being observable or detectable (Trondalen, 2001). Lars does not sing. I do however think that he is approaching his own voice by reminding himself of – thus dealing with – the fact that his flute is primary instrument. To play on this instrument he has to give away his own breath in order for the flute to spring to life. By devoting his breath, his own air, he is the creator of life and of sound. He is getting closer to his own audibility in this world. Although he did not play during the journey, he did in my opinion dare to approach “his own voice” by acting towards and through the flute. The flute “is feelings”, he stated shortly after the journey’s end (cf. the flute as an affect extension).

In the listening experience, Lars was not actively playing - making music - throughout the journey. When he was not, he could however make use of the music as a “mothering”, he could be played to instead (Wärja, 1999). Lars was then able to get close to/tackle the flute – his emotions and thereby himself – without losing control or being entirely overwhelmed by the experience. He connected perhaps to the GIM therapist through the dynamic musical programme Mythic Journey, all the while sensing that he himself was separated from his own agenda. I understand this as an exploration of the various timbres of emotion, which emerge when faced with his personal musical life-flute (cf. the flute as an extension of the human body).

I would further like to elaborate on the flute as an observable instrument and symbol carrier. I here assume that Lars’ flute embodied qualities reminding the client of himself: He described a “sense of empty space”, a lack of meaning and content and a feeling of smallness. Were I to pursue this train of thought it seems plausible that the client’s feelings may be described e.g. like the following: “I (or the flute?) are empty shells and I am “no one” unless I play (actively make sound) – then someone is bound to hear me. The flute is small and externally cold and we understand each other”. Another aspect may be that the flute could prove to be able to manage all of Lars (eventually) and it will not break even if he should play it with great force. It is able to tackle all of him as well as his affect expressions without breaking or suffering any damage. In short it may very well be applied to project (Bruscia 1998) inner terrain onto a relational visitation without a fragmentation of neither the relation nor the client himself.

The flute could furthermore function as a symbol carrier and thus be experienced within the client’s inner landscapes. Consequently, one possible interpretation of the flute may be tied to the function of the instrument itself. The role of the flute is generally that of playing with others and being part of a greater whole. It is also a frequently used solo instrument and may thereby function as a social symbol. To Lars the instrument may hold an implicit wish to connect and work with others, something he often finds challenging and difficult. To connect with others may be further described by defining oneself within a social praxis as part of a socio-musical context. This element of inter-human belonging achieved through music combined with own experienced joy over the music holds a great significance to the development of a musical identity (Ruud, 1997).

Pointing to the historian Kjelstadli's article What are symbols?, I understand the musical journey as a symbol both able to store and communicate meaning (Kjelstadli, 1997). This is argued on the basis that Lars was able to actually pick up the flute and he was able to leave in order to return at a later time. The flute may be viewed as a representation, i.e. an abstraction inasmuch as is it intangible when discussed afterwards. Hence, it can be seen as condensed meaning, e.g. through the exploration of own boundaries within the large glass room. That is contributing to an anchoring of the feeling that it is indeed possible to test one’s limits without losing control or be overwhelmed by it. I see this as particularly important to Lars, who frequently felt – and was afraid of – loss of control in his life. As one example of an exploration of his limits I point to his statement: “the flute suddenly stands up – the flute is standing among the other colours – the colours surround the flute”. The client is able to move within the flute should he wish to, although he did not describe it. Moving around inside or not, the flute may nevertheless represent standing up for oneself. That is arising from one position and assuming another posture or position.

Within a slightly different key of interpretation the flute may furthermore symbolize the client’s own masculine sexuality, “arising” and “shining” with the colour spectrum surrounding it (Freud, 1942/92). Consequently; materialization and a representation of his own male body.

Due to the ambiguity of the flute throughout the journey I argue that Lars was free to add and subtract characteristics to his flute and its symbolization at his own will. He was well aware that the therapist was untrained on the flute and the musical journey presented both therapist and client with an opportunity to explore our similarities as well as differences. Additionally, the client had experienced the therapist’s possible function as “Fellow Traveller” (Yalom, 2002) through exploration of similar, however not identical memories of feelings.

With this in mind, I suggest that Lars’ meeting with his flute as an emotional means (“the flute is feelings”, he states) is understood as an open symbol (Kjelstadli, 1997). That being so I argue that both the client and the therapist may attribute various values, thoughts and opinions to the flute. This in turn entails that it seems possible to uphold and maintain a procedural view of the relationship between the flute and its interpretations (or representations), all the while grounding it within a shared – albeit different – music journey experience.

Based on the discussion above I find that the client’s images (Bonny, 1976) – in particular focusing the flute as an ambiguous symbol – earned him a greater sense of coherence when faced with the challenges in his personal life.

Summing Up and Putting It Into Perspective

Being a GIM Therapist

Maintaining GIM therapy for as long as thirteen months with one client has proved both rewarding and educational. When undertaking the therapy and throughout the whole process I have regarded myself as a facilitator and a “fellow traveller” (Yalom, 2002) first and foremost – especially with regards to the clients own self management and maturation process.

From a purely theoretical standing point I found the fact that the client seemed to benefit from GIM encouraging. Moreover, GIM also turned out to be of assistance to him when he was feeling low, blue or even depressed. The experience that GIM could assume such a function and lessen the signs of his depression is in line with Wrangsjö og Körlin’s (1995) research material.

There are several transmission mechanisms in play in an inter-therapeutic relationship (Bruscia, 1998). I encountered several throughout the client’s therapy, from his somewhat distanced relationship with his mother (significant as I am a female therapist) to statements such as “I have no one else to go to … I’ve never trusted anyone before like I trust you now” (cf. Meadows, 2002). I also registered that I from time to time let both the client’s joy, vitality and enthusiasm influence me positively (cf. Stern, 2010). Moreover, I had to explore more of my “masculine qualities” e.g. when I was faced with the decision of whether to continue therapy should the client choose to terminate contact with his physician.

I believe this kind of public tale – i.e. both conversations taking place during GIM session and those between the client and his wife – contributed in a new and positive way to the formation of what Stern (2000) names the client’s narrative self.

A Perspective on the Process

Carrying such a GIM process through has been a rewarding and compelling experience. Forming my own experience into words retrospectively has been stimulating as well as a form of inspecting oneself through the rear-view mirror. Ascertaining that the ethical aspects of the therapy have indeed been well tended to – both during the therapy and on further re-examination – is satisfying.

Several areas of the therapy process have not been discussed or have merely been broached. Many of these areas are very interesting and could be subject to exploration at a later date. The significance of the music, the importance of the choice of music program, archetypal meanings of the various images, the therapist intervention–client’s journey relationship, the colour exploration and interpretation, form (cf. Mandala Card Test, Bush, 1988) and drawings (cf. Kellogg et al., 1977) and the instrument’s importance to the process progression are all examples of areas worthy of further thought. For example the flute in session #14 became part of the journey simultaneously as the appearance of the oboe in Vaughn Williams: Concerto for oboe and string orchestra during the very first part of the listening.

Furthermore, I am left with several questions. What role does the client’s apparent divide between intellectual capacity and ability to stay close to his own emotions play? How, if at all, do the client’s depressive thoughts influence the therapy process? Did it influence the therapy that the client is a man and the therapist a women – if so, how? How did the client’s (experience of) his own childhood influence his vulnerability as a grown-up? What role did the journey inductions play? And, last but not least, I reflect upon what significance the GIM therapist’s theoretical foundation hold over the client’s experience of both the journey and the conversations retrospectively.

Summing Up

Throughout this text I have focused a GIM process with a young and resourceful male client. Based on the discussion I argue that the client’s concrete images – calling attention to the flute as an ambiguous symbol – contributed throughout the therapy to a greater sense of coherence when dealing with his challenges in life, thus leading to a strengthened identity.


“He loves no plays - As Thou dost, Anthony; he hears no music;
… he is a very dangerous man.”
(From Julius Cesar by Shakespeare;
Cesar is talking to Anthony about Cassius.
Freely translated)

One week ago I was attending the 9th European pre-conference in Guided Imagery and Music in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. The first day of the pre-conference was focusing Music as a Journey with a particular focus on “The Tale of the Hero”. During the morning session the Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, a pioneer in integrating psychotherapy and spiritual traditions, was exploring visions of music as a mythic travel; the hero overcoming the obstacles of his own existence (Naranjo, 2010). In the afternoon, the participants were invited to join in for a personal GIM journey to experience the program Hero’s Journey One and offered professional guidance by a GIM therapist. I took the opportunity to travel myself to renew my personal experience of Hero’s Journey One.[4] I encountered the call to adventure, crossed the threshold to fight trials and task, met a helper, got my reward and returned while singing. The program Hero’s Journey One indeed afforded a Heroine’s journey to me too, of which I appropriated in my own way (DeNora, 2000). I recognized – again – this program is not related to gender as such. On the contrary it affords an exploration which is universal in nature, however individually informed by time and space. The journey never stops; it goes on …

The case study presented above was performed many years ago. During the process I was deeply moved by the client’s personal GIM process. After completing the GIM therapy, I decided to write his story in a story that I truly knew was mine. So I did. I wrote a case study, made it anonymous and put the text into an envelope, which was marked “confidential”. Then “the call” to write in Voices came during the summer. I realized the one possibility I had, due to the short time schedule, was to revisit this “old case”: It was indeed not a “Cold Case” to me. When I opened the envelope and read the text again, I realized I recalled the images very clearly and memories of feelings felt vital and embodied. The memories of feelings were indeed related to my inner dynamic forms of vitality and were recalled lively through my senses even after many years (cf. Stern, 2010).

I have decided to keep the text as it was written those years ago, except for some updates on references. Accordingly, this is a story in a story revisited. And it is due to the generosity of the client, that this story is made available today.

Living and experiencing a Hero or Heroine’s journey is not done once and forever. Such journeys are ongoing narratives. In real everyday life stories come alive over and over again when Music is a frame, a means of communication, a method, a technique: facilitating a variety of interpretations and experiences through the aesthetics, beauty and power of music itself.

“If music be the food of love, play on.”
(From The Twelfth Night Act 1. – 1st scene;
Duke to Curio at the sea-cost near Illyria)


[1]For an introduction to The Bonny Method (GIM) in Norwegian, see Trondalen and Oveland (2008).

[2]A thank you to ”Lars” who consented to publishing this text.

[3]The Latin verb communicare not only refers to the act of sharing or communicate in the everyday meaning of the word, but also: partake, join together with, allow part in (Aschehoug & Gyldendal 1991).

[4]Thanks to Primary Trainer in GIM, Ellen Thomassen (DK), for supportive and professional guiding through my trials, task and return.


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