The Central Tenets of The Bonny Method of GIM: Consciousness and the Integration of Psychotherapy and Spirituality

By Frances Smith Goldberg & Louise Dimiceli-Mitran

From Helen Bonny's collection of  violin music

I have no doubt whatever that most people live, whether physically, intellectually, or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness, and their soul’s resources in general, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger…we all have reservoirs of life to draw upon, of which we do not dream.
William James (1969)

The development of GIM came about as Helen Bonny sought to understand her profound peak experience while playing violin during a religious service. Bonny describes her experience of playing “The Swan” from Saint Saens' Carnival of the Animals.

All went well until the repetition of the first theme. Then everything changed. It was as if the violin was not my own; bow arm and fingers were held in abeyance/obedience to a light and wonderful infusion that created an unbelievable sound I knew I had not ever produced before. The notes mellowed and soared with exquisite grace. Astonished and delighted, I almost stopped what I was doing to fully hear the beauty. Fortunately I thought better of it and provided the bow and fingers, but without the vibrato or bow pressure to create a good sound. Nonetheless, the beautiful music continued to the end. I was trembling when I finished, and as I sat down I began to shake even more violently” (Bonny, 1998/2002, pp. 5-6).

Bonny, who had a degree in violin performance from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, was asked to play again. During the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria, it happened again. Bonny reported that over the next few weeks she felt as if she were seeing the world in a different way. Life was a joy; colors were more vivid; all sensations took on a deeper dimension. According to Bonny the experience was an epiphany and led to the opening of her inner life. Thus was Bonny’s experience of a deeply spiritual, music-generated peak experience (Bonny, 1998/2002, p. 6).

Bonny’s study of music therapy and her subsequent work in research with psychedelic drugs at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC), where she developed music programs to accompany the drug experiences, and ultimately Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), were the direct result of her quest for understanding this life-changing event. Her effort was to find a way to bring a similar experience of music to others (Bonny, 1998/2002).

In her research at the MPRC Bonny observed the profound opening of consciousness with psychodynamic, peak and spiritual experiences of those undergoing psychedelic drug treatment (Clark, 2002). She understood the role of music in those sessions, among them to help the patient relinquish controls and enter more fully into inner experience, to facilitate the release of emotion, to direct and structure the experience, contribute toward a peak experience, and provide continuity in an experience of timelessness. (Bonny & Pahnke, 1972/2002, p. 22). In her research she found that music alone produced similar effects, and there emerged Guided Imagery and Music.

Her dilemma became how to present her work to a rather conservative music therapy community. Years before, in her first meeting with E. Thayer Gaston, considered the father of music therapy, and Bonny’s mentor, he had admonished her to never mention mysticism again when she tried to explain to him her experience while playing the violin (Bonny 1998/2002). How to present to music therapists a process that was equally a pathway to spiritual experience and an excellent psychotherapeutic medium?

This article discusses the integration of psychotherapy and spirituality in the Bonny Method and the evolution of Helen Bonny’s journey in this regard. Included are Bonny’s early theoretical influences, along with her grounding philosophy, the central tenets of GIM as she initially envisioned and the development of GIM theory as it relates to the integration of psychotherapy and spirituality. A case study will illustrate this integration.

It is important to remember that Bonny engaged in this work in consciousness well before the current popularity of other imagery approaches. Helen Bonny was not only a pioneer in music therapy; she was among the scientific researchers who were at the forefront of bringing the study of consciousness into the realm of science.

In Topeka, Kansas, and later during her tenure at the Marilyn Psychiatric Research Center, Bonny was surrounded by several founders of both humanistic psychology and transpersonal psychology and psychiatry: Abraham Maslow, Elmer and Alyce Green, Kenneth Godfrey, Stanislav Grof, Roberto Assagioli, and John Lilly. She was one of the founders of the Council Grove meetings in Kansas, sponsored by the Menninger Foundation, where scientists and researchers continue to gather to share ideas and findings in the areas of consciousness research, experiences of altered states of consciousness, and other matters important to transpersonal psychology and psychiatry (Bonny, 1995/2002; Chinen, 1996).

The research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center was heavily influenced by humanistic psychology, with its emphasis on the concept that all persons have within them whatever is necessary for growth and development to their fullest potential. Maslow’s concept of the peak experience as healing was central to the use of psychedelic drugs as agents of therapeutic intervention in psychotherapy. A peak experience is one that is filled with wonder, awe and reverence and is often ineffable. Working with patients with psychological issues related to terminal cancer, alcoholism and other addictions, this was a perfect fit for Bonny in her search for understanding her own peak experience and the relationship of music to consciousness. It was in this milieu that Guided Imagery and Music was born.

The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music

What exactly is the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music? GIM is a depth experience in which specifically programmed classical music is used to generate a dynamic unfolding of inner experience…(It) is holistic, humanistic and transpersonal, allowing for the emergence of all aspects of the human experience: psychological, emotional, physical, social, spiritual, and the collective unconscious (Goldberg, 1995, pp. 112, 114). A Bonny Method session consists of four phases: (1) a preliminary conversation, (2) an induction (relaxation-concentration), (3) the music listening session, (4) the post-session integration or review (Bonny, 1978a/2002).

During the music phase of GIM, the client moves into an altered state of consciousness (ASC). An ASC is a state in which a person is deeply focused on inner experience, rather than outward events; it is a state of consciousness that is qualitatively different from the person’s normal, everyday state (Tart, 1969). Experiences of GIM in this state lead to vivid and emotion-laden imagery. It is a powerful uncovering process to explore levels of consciousness not usually available in normal awareness (Bonny, 1983/2002), such as archetypal, mystical, and spiritual states. These experiences come in the form of feelings and images in all sensory modes and are representative of whatever is at the top of the client’s hierarchy of urgency physically, emotionally, psychologically, and/or spiritually (Goldberg, 1992, 1995, 2002).

Bonny repeatedly referred to GIM as an exploration of consciousness. From the very beginning, in her seminal book Music and Your Mind with Louis Savary (1973), she writes about the way music engages one on different levels of consciousness, “For example, you may enter avenues of insight and creativity, centers of self-realization and self evaluation, layers of memory and dreams, realms of religious and transpersonal experience” (Bonny & Savary, 1973, p. 15). Here, she refers to both therapeutic benefits and spiritual experiences.

Bonny’s first publication for music therapists regarding GIM was “Music and Consciousness” (1975). Disappointed by unfair criticism from some people in the music therapy community, Bonny seemed more reluctant to discuss the spiritual aspects of GIM and its potential as a medium for exploring and transforming consciousness. Rather she emphasized the therapeutic aspects of GIM, Ultimately, Bonny stopped speaking about the spiritual aspects of GIM in public; however, she continued to acknowledge the spiritual benefits of GIM in training groups.. Kasayka (2002) addresses Bonny’s change of focus and, although she understood why this was necessary, given the climate in music therapy at that time, she notes the loss to GIM and to the music therapy community as the result. Bonny later elected to bring spirituality in GIM out of the “closet,” and called together a group of GIM practitioners in 1998 to discuss the spiritual elements of GIM. That opening was felt throughout the GIM community.

A Theoretical Model for Understanding The Bonny Method

To illustrate her theory, Bonny developed a series of maps of consciousness which she called Cut-log Diagrams (Bonny 1978b, p.6; Bonny & Tansill 1977/2002, p. 190), a metaphor for continuing growth, as the concentric rings resemble the growth rings of a cut log from a tree. (See Figure 1) In the center is the ego. Throughout the diagram various states of consciousness are noted, going from states that are closer to the normal waking state of ego consciousness, such as daydreams, to the more expanded states in deeper consciousness, such as unity consciousness.

Figure 1. Bonny's Cut Log Diagram of Consciousness.
Figure 1. Bonny's Cut Log Diagram of Consciousness. Bonny & Tansill, 2002, in Summer, Lisa (Ed.), Music & Consciousness: The Evolution of Guided Imagery and Music (p. 190). ©Barcelona Publishers. Republished with permission.

In these diagrams, Bonny illustrated music’s ability to resonate the entire field of consciousness and to activate experiences on psychotherapeutic levels as well as spiritual-transpersonal levels. Bonny’s premise, illustrated graphically in one of the Cut log diagrams, is that in a GIM session the music takes a person to one or more of the states of consciousness, facilitates exploration of that inner area, and brings information gained back to the ego to be integrated (Bonny 1978b, p. 8; Bonny & Tansill 1977/2002, p. 192).

This ready access to expanded states places the Bonny Method squarely in a transpersonal framework (Clark, 1998-1999; Lewis, 1998-1999). Transpersonal psychology emerged from the interest in healthy human development of humanistic psychology. The aim is to bring empirical and scientific study to areas that traditionally have been considered religious, such as transcendence, ultimate meaning, mystical and spiritual experience as well as consciousness and phenomena experienced in non-ordinary states of consciousness (Chinen, 1996; Walsh and Vaughan, 1993; See also

The Role of Music

Music is both the fuel for the GIM process and the co-therapist. Bonny experimented with various types of music and always came back to Western art music, commonly called classical music, as the most effective. This music is multilayered and ambiguous, and therefore enables the client to project onto the music (Bush, 1995) or experience the music in a way that resonates with the inner psyche.

The tension and release, the complex structure, rhythms, harmonies, textures and aesthetic provide the depth and breadth to fuel the journey into consciousness. In classical music a mood or theme is presented; then it is significantly altered in a complex development section and it finally comes to resolution at the end in a different place from where it started (Bonny, 2001). The music transforms. The person’s journey through the music in a GIM session mirrors the musical process as the client connects with an area to explore, goes into the depths of complex feeling and images, and at the end comes to a new place of feeling, insight or understanding.

The aesthetic, the pure beauty of the music used in GIM sessions can bring the person deeply in touch with the essence of beauty and paves the way for spiritual and transpersonal experiences (Summer, 1992). Aesthetics of music bring healing experiences of unconditional love that go beyond the capacity of the very best therapist. The Bonny Method is a process that actualizes new dimensions of musical experience and meaning (Goldberg, 1992).

The Bonny Method and Spirituality

Spirituality and religion are often confused with one another. Bonny (2001/2002) explained it this way.

Whereas religion is a set of beliefs, texts, liturgies, forms of worship organized for groups to teach and practice unified beliefs resulting in “faith,” spirituality is the personal act or process of transformation that takes one from an ego-centered exclusionary attitude toward life to one filled with inclusionary attitudes of love, acceptance, adoration, appreciation for all life forms, a sense of unity and purpose that extends into the past and into the future (2002, p. 179).

O’Murchu (2000) describes spirituality as “a search for meaning that embraces a 'beyondness;' a sense of being embraced and held by a larger life force” (p. 204).

The Bonny Method of GIM, like transpersonal psychology (Scotten, 1996), addresses transpersonal experience that is part of universal human consciousness. Bonny emphasized the need for GIM practitioners to be familiar with various world religions, and encouraged students to explore their own spirituality or religious beliefs in preparation for working with clients who have different belief systems.

Wilber’s Integral Psychology (1977) is widely used as a guide to transpersonal experience by Bonny Method practitioners. He presents a developmental model from birth to transpersonal and spiritual development in adulthood, creating a more complete model of human development than, for example, psychodynamic theories. This model was described as the spectrum of consciousness. Wilber’s descriptions of transpersonal and spiritual stages include phenomena that are very similar to many transpersonal Bonny Method sessions. Stanislav Grof (1985) has created a cartography of the mind that is also quite relevant for understanding GIM sessions in these more expanded states. Most Bonny Method training programs teach Grof and Wilber’s work in order to prepare students for client spiritual and transpersonal experiences because they often arise spontaneously in sessions.

Another important way of understanding Bonny Method sessions is through Fowler’s stages of faith (1995). He proposes a six-stage progression of spiritual or faith development from undifferentiating faith in early childhood to universalizing faith, achieved by some in adulthood. His work is influenced by the developmental models of Piaget, Kohlberg, and Erikson. These stages give the GIM therapist another lens through which to view the spirituality that naturally emerges in client sessions.

Literature on GIM and Spirituality

Even though the public focus was on psychotherapy, many GIM practitioners wrote about the spiritual and transpersonal elements that are inherent in the method. For example, Clarkson has written several articles on GIM and spirituality (e.g. 1998-99, 2001-2002, 2005-2006). Others have written on a range of topics, for example, Kundalini awakenings in the Bonny Method (Carlsson, 2001-2002), the GIM guide as spiritual director (Beck, 2001-2002) and transformational processes in GIM (Bunt, 2000). Also, Lewis (1998-1999) wrote on the frequency and nature of transpersonal experiences and the music that stimulated them in clients undergoing a series of GIM sessions.

Many authors speak of these experiences in the context of a psychotherapy series, illustrating the integration of psychotherapy and spirituality in the Bonny Method process, for example, Clark (1998-1999). Clark also maintains that the Bonny Method contributes to spiritual development of the facilitator, a view that is shared by others, such as G.Clarkson (personal communication, June 2000) and these authors.

Other writers focus on the use of the Bonny Method to support spiritual growth. Kasayka (2002), reviewed programs developed by GIM practitioners specifically aimed at spiritual growth and experience: Holligan and Marr (1999), Borling and Borling (1999), Beck (1996-97) and her own spiritual retreat programs with Marilyn Clark called “Music Passages.” Most use the group forms of GIM that were used by Bonny in the early days of her exploration of music and consciousness. Indeed, the first experiences of this writer (FG) with GIM were in just such spiritually oriented GIM groups in the 1970s with Lou Savary. Kasayka noted that Bonny believed “music could open an individual to the spiritual and could affect healing” (p. 260).

Abrams (2002a) offered a comprehensive review of the transpersonal as relates to the Bonny Method, including music, theoretical foundations of transpersonal psychology and Bonny Method theories concerning the transpersonal, including Bonny (1975, 1978b), Bruscia (1998), Bush (1995), Goldberg (1994) and Summer (1992). Abrams also presented a model he developed to define transpersonal qualities of GIM experiences (2002b). In his composite diagram he considers two separate axes that are concerned with polarity between two dimensions of the experience, including particularity (ordinariness and specificity) and universality, and then between the qualities of separateness and unity. All four elements are considered in both music and imagery components. The experience tends to the transpersonal if it has more qualities of the unitive and universal components.

Bush (1995) expanded on Bonny's cut log diagram with a 3-D funnel-shaped model that describes the movement through layers of consciousness facilitated by music induced imagery. The music makes it possible to access material from levels of ordinary consciousness through the personal unconscious, collective unconscious, archetypal or transpersonal levels.

Bruscia (1998) created a Four-quadrant diagram of music experience to illustrate how music experiences become transpersonal (1998) based on Wilber's spectrum of consciousness model of development. Bruscia theorizes that music experiences begin from an individual's subjective, objective, collective or universal perspective; this perspective can be surpassed when the experience becomes so profound that it shifts to being transpersonal in nature, moving beyond the initial experience to retain only the values of the music. In these instances, the music acts as an aesthetic.. When the music experience transcends ego boundaries, it becomes a transpersonal experience.

Figure 2. A Holographic Model of the Bonny Method of GIM.
Figure 2. A Holographic Model of the Bonny Method of GIM. F. Goldberg (2002), in Bruscia & Grocke (Eds.), Guided Imagery and Music: The Bonny Method and Beyond (p. 368). ©Barcelona publishers. Republished with permission.

Goldberg (2002) proposes that the Bonny Method is a hologram embedded in the field of music. The field includes the Self, which is the whole of the person and is much larger than the ego. The field also holds all aspects of the person, known and not known and all states of consciousness. See Figure 2. Building on Bonny’s Cut-log diagram, the rings represent music-emotion-imagery cycles for each of the infinite number of states of consciousness. Each ring exists within its own axis separate from the others, although they overlap. The Self is the nucleus, the center of the hologram, represented by a spiral, and is both a centering, organizing principle and a part of all states of consciousness.

During the GIM experience the Self, fueled by the music, spirals throughout consciousness until it connects to whatever issue and whatever state of consciousness it needs. The issue that is addressed and the state of consciousness in which the work is done emerge on a personal hierarchy of urgency. Then, when ready, the Self may move on to other states of consciousness, and finally returns to the center, for integration. Some of the states of consciousness accessed in GIM are psychodynamic, body, archetypal and spiritual, among many others. GIM is a process of multidimensional expansion as the Self brings more and more of itself into conscious awareness, growing through the very act of spiraling. The Self moves inherently toward integration, wholeness and transcendence as the music taps into the person’s inner wisdom in a constant striving to reveal its true nature, that of a spiritual being.

GIM: A Psycho-spiritual Method

GIM is a psychospiritual method because of its natural tendency to enable the client to access psychodynamic, spiritual, and transpersonal areas of consciousness. As such, GIM practice is consonant with the transpersonal view of psychotherapy which addresses the full spectrum of consciousness. (Boorstein, 1980; Clark, 1998-99; Scotton, Chenen & Battista, 1996; Walsh & Vaughan, 1993). Vaughan (1985/1995) asserts that spiritual experiences and existential issues of identity, meaning and purpose in life, are crucial to mental health, “for development is not complete unless the human quest for transcendence is taken into account” (Vaughan, 1985/1995, p. 9). Spiritual development and psychological development seem to go hand in hand. Indeed, some spiritual leaders encourage psychodynamic work, for example, Almaas (1988).

Bonny understood that in exploring consciousness all levels of the psyche are resonated by the music. This allows the client to heed Bonny’s exhortation to “let the music take you wherever you need to go.” Clark (1998-99) explains that “Because [the Bonny Method] provides an aesthetic and pliable therapeutic container in the music, the therapeutic work may transcend the stated goals and offer a means of reaching meta-needs of hope, peace, meaning and beauty” (p.61).

The following case study by the author LDM demonstrates the fruits of an open approach by the therapist that enabled her client to work on many levels of consciousness, illustrating the integration of psychotherapy and spirituality.

Emma's Case

Emma presented with issues of unresolved grief. As a 51 year old happily married psychologist, she found herself in tears while facilitating bereavement groups and during staff rehash sessions. She was referred by a coworker for GIM. At this writing Emma has had 40 sessions consisting mostly of traditional GIM, some Music Imagery (an adaptation of GIM) interspersed with occasional verbal sessions. Mandalas were created after all GIM sessions, as part of the Music Imagery experiences and sometimes as a focus during check-in. At times Emma drew them at home as a coping technique for processing emotions. Mandalas shown here were created as part of the sessions.

Emma shared her list of losses: a sister's death from breast cancer nine years previous and her father, 4 years previous from a stroke. Her elderly mother, diagnosed with dementia, was currently in an assisted living facility - labile, explosive and emotionally abusive. Emma often cried after phone calls when her mother voiced disappointment in her as a daughter; she felt enmeshed. Dylan, her dog, was near death from cancer. Additionally, she had been sexually abused repeatedly by an uncle at 2-3 years of age and had received no validation or support from her family; they didn't believe her. As sessions continued, it became obvious that Emma was also grieving the loss of her home from a flood at age ten and a lack of mentoring by her disconnected psychologist father. It seemed that any anniversary or birthday related to these family members set off a wave of new loss. Emma stated, “I can't stop mourning my sister.” Currently on medication for depression and anxiety as well as sleep aids, Emma had been in verbal therapy for most of her adult life.

Raised Jewish, Emma does not know if any of her relatives were in concentration camps; recently her mother had mentioned that some cousins of her grandparents had been left behind in Europe and “gone missing”, but no details are known. Emma felt disconnected from her spirituality although she observed many Jewish holidays and identified with Jewish culture. After the deaths of her sister and father she had stopped attending temple. She described an existential faith crisis, wanting to believe that something existed after death but couldn't. Emma did, however, have a strong belief in angels and believed that mystical “signs” could appear from “the other side.” She had learned how to ground herself energetically by imagining a cord connecting her to the earth as well.

Emma's first GIM session found her connecting with the smiling energy of her deceased sister and other family members, experiencing abandonment as a young girl but also being cared for by them. During Debussy's String Quartet Andantino [7:23] she found herself as a child sadly standing in line with a group of holocaust survivors; then being liberated by young soldiers in uniforms. To Bach's Christmas Oratorio [7:59], she experienced being lovingly held and fed by her grandparents, who were deceased in real life. Finishing with Warlock's Pied en l'air [2:32], her adult self was able to bring the child self to safety aided by her dog Dylan and her husband. Holocaust images were to reappear consistently in sessions to come.

As sessions progressed, a powerful guardian emerges in Jasper, a reindeer who helps Emma realize her ability to be resourceful and never feel trapped. To music from Bonny's Mostly Bach program and with the help of Jasper, she goes into hell and destroys her abusive uncle, feeling powerful and victorious. She has the sense that she is here to help others “walk out of hell” as part of her professional work.

Symbolic Spiritual Images Yield Therapeutic Results

Figure 3. The World is Safe.
Figure 3. “The World is Safe.” Emma feels the power of her halo and of God encircling, descending over and clearing this scene that symbolizes balance and safety for her. The stars are guides and signs of the infinite; fish symbolize cleansing and spirituality. The grief in the water is able to flow in and out. Her protectors Jasper (reindeer) and Dylan (dog) are at the bottom in the grounding mountains and pines. Emma is pictured on the bottom right with a protective halo.
Figure 4. Forest Fire.
Figure 4.“Forest Fire.” This represents the powerful staff Emma received with fire/light at the tip. In this session Emma rescues parents who look like holocaust survivors from incredible evil in a forest army encampment. She feels angry at God and feels he doesn't care about her work. While processing afterwards she spoke of bringing the light to her work.
Figure 5. Emma had many lotus images; this one symbolized her power in the strength of the leaves, yellow light and the grounded green at the base.
Figure 5. Emma had many lotus images; this one symbolized her power in the strength of the leaves, yellow light and the grounded green at the base. The Laughing Buddha appears as a symbol of joy and abundance. She adapted this symbol of how she wanted to be at work, walking in light and bringing light to others. She sometimes carried a small Buddha statue in her pocket as a reminder.
Figure 6. Hero
Figure 6. “Hero.” Emma imaged herself as a rescuer of refugee children, wearing a green uniform with this badge that symbolized her courage. The red is half of an infinity symbol on its side, a wing insignia is at the top and purple ribbons hang down from the medal as an acknowledgment of being injured and still making it through.
Figure 7. Hope
Figure 7. “Hope.” In this pivotal session Emma finds God in the image of an old, diminished man covered with ash in a junkyard. Ashes of holocaust victims are spiraling up from a fire. As a warrior, Emma rescues God and puts him in rehab so he can regain his strength and lead again. The fire is put out and the souls of the victims are released to a place where they will be restored and recycled.

As the sessions continue, the theme of life beyond death is a consistent theme but she still grapples with believing this in her conscious life. Imaging during GIM, Emma receives messages from deceased family members telling her there is an afterlife, that angels exist, and that they have been washed of all feelings except love. From one session's imagery, she adopts the image of a laughing Buddha to symbolize what she wants to be like at work and at times carries a small Buddha in her pocket while working as a reminder. Emma's change of countenance receives a positive response from coworkers and brings a feeling of happiness and self confidence. However, her relationships with superiors at work continue to disappoint her as her expectations of being mentored repeatedly fall short. She realizes at one point that she is looking for a father figure to mentor her as a counter to her psychologist father's failure in that regard. She gradually is able to let go of these expectations of her supervisors and begins to find what she needs from other sources. The past symptoms of crying in professional situations gradually subside as she delves further into issues related to her old and more recent losses.

Over the course of two years, Emma has consistent symbolic, transpersonal images representing spirituality in different ways as if she is trying out concepts. These include God watching a floating orchestra comprised of members from “the other side” who need to be healed from loss, a glowing orb full of energy that brings peace, receiving a powerful staff with fire or “God's light” at the tip, an archetypal animal king that validates Emma's spiritual connection to animals, and dogs as a pure manifestation of God representing love and loyalty. She also finds herself wearing a powerful cloak that strengthens her intuitive power, swimming under water to find a souvenir from “the Divine”, literally taking a “leap of faith” off a cliff and receiving energy from a powerful, shimmering golden halo above her head which she sees as a symbol of “The Divine”.

In one session, illuminated by an expansive white light from above, she floats up through a gate in the sky to explore various possibilities of what heaven might mean to her. These include a valley, a tall pine forest, Europe, a garden party, and finally her grandfather, who was a tailor, working at a sewing machine. She concludes that there's a piece of heaven for everybody. The lotus, a recurring theme in her mandalas, symbolizes rebirth and peace.

The reindeer Jasper and her dog Dylan are consistent in her images as companions, protectors and guides. Emma is no longer a practicing Jew and she was initially surprised with the image of a reindeer guardian which she considered to be a Christian Christmas symbol. However, she buys a book about reindeer and adapts it as a part of herself that symbolizes strong masculine energy. In real life her dog Dylan has died which causes more waves of grief. She moves through this grief, realizes her deep spiritual connection to animals through GIM, and eventually begins to discuss getting another dog. It becomes apparent to her that Dylan represents the unconditional love that she never received from her mother. This lack is intensified by the fact that her mother continues to verbally attack Emma as her health declines. This gives Emma the opportunity to create some boundaries; she practices letting her mother go even as she is involved in her care decisions. In a later session Emma compassionately realizes that her mother is an old woman struggling with mental and physical disease; she makes plans to go see her. Her fear around communicating with her mother is tempered by this realization.

In her second year of therapy, Emma comes in after the anniversary of her sister's death saying she was fine and didn't feel depressed as she had on other anniversaries. She states she is bringing the light everyday to her work and feels empowered.

Holocaust Imagery

During her GIM sessions, Emma sometimes experiences herself as a rescuer of helpless children in different scenarios, often within holocaust-type scenery and people. Scenes, often in black and white, included refugees in lines wearing badges, people getting off buses in a meadow with high-powered military rifles pointed at them, and Jewish warriors jumping off a cliff rather than being captured. In one session (see Figure 6) she sees herself wearing an insignia which is a sign of courage and being part of something.

As her sessions progressed, these images intensified and took more of a center stage. Finally, to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor [10:00], warrior Emma finds a hobo gatekeeper tending a junkyard fire from which columns of gray ash are spiraling – ashes of holocaust victims. She feels angry that this piece of history is in a junkyard being erased and dishonored this way. God himself appears in the form of an old man, diminished, weak, and covered with ashes. Emma calls on her guides and a multinational counsel of elders. With their help, God is bathed and receives new vestments; he is then sent to sleep, strengthen and rehabilitate while guarded by the reindeer Jasper. As Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead [21:30] plays, the burning is halted and the ashes stop. Souls of the victims are released and rise up toward the end of the universe where they will be restored and recycled back to earth. While still listening to the music, Emma is struck with the huge loss of beauty and community that was suffered by the Jews in the ghettos; the cultures are lost. After the music has ended, she concludes that instead of asking God for help, it is our responsibility to help him. She states, “When we humans perform compassionate, spiritual acts we actually create the energy for God to recharge.” While processing this important session, Emma says that it has helped her integrate her feelings of loss with feelings of hope.

While checking in at her next session, Emma recalls how she has been to a friend's temple for a long High Holiday service. This is significant because after losing her sister and father she gave up going to temple. She spent the 2 ½ hours during this service thinking about how she would reconcile her Jewish beliefs and practices with the new realizations gleaned from her transpersonal GIM sessions, particularly belief in the hereafter. She reconsiders the meaning of the Jewish books of life and death and what they might mean to her specifically. Emma also shared how she used to sob at synagogue because it highlighted the loss of her family and childhood experiences with them at services. She stated, “I no longer feel lost and I didn't cry. I saw how the praise would make God feel better and saw him stand up. He's healing but still in rehab.” While feeling some anger at what she heard and saw during the service, she realized she was now developing her own belief system. Emma was able to separate from those elements she didn't resonate with and felt happy while there because she was devoting a long time to thinking about her spirituality. In reflecting on her shift, she stated “Believing in the hereafter helps me see patients through the hospice and death process.”

Spiritual Growth in Tandem with Therapeutic Breakthroughs

Emma's anger at God and break with her spirituality can be equated with Kubler-Ross & Kessler's (2008) second stage of grief. See As Emma moves through her anger and grapples with her spiritual issues, she acknowledges the deep losses of her Jewish culture through the atrocities of the holocaust and also discovers her strength as a warrior.

In understanding Emma's therapeutic shift, it is useful to consider the theories of Stanislav Grof. Grof (1985) discusses COEX systems (Systems of COndensed EXperience) as a “dynamic constellation of memories (and associated fantasy material) from different periods of the individual's life, with the common denominator of a strong emotional charge of the same quality, intense physical sensation of the same kind, or the fact that they share some other important elements” (p. 97). Emma's COEX system included the losses of her sister and father and also grief from the lack of a nurturing mother, the losses inherent in her mother's current condition, loss of safety as a child due to the abuse from her uncle, the loss of her childhood home from a flood, the lack of mentoring from her father, a lack of mentors in her professional life and the loss of her spirituality. It could be that the holocaust images were activated by a deep cultural grief, possibly carried in her genetic DNA (or vice versa), and added to the power of the COEX. The loss of her dog was perhaps the final “straw” that opened up the rest of the COEX; crying while facilitating therapeutic groups seemed as if her grief filled her so that it was “leaking” without her permission. It also seemed evident that her work, which included constantly dealing with the losses and deaths of her clients, also activated the COEX. The intensity of this grief-laden COEX was overwhelming for Emma. She was, however, with the help of the music, able to build up her ego strength, awareness and courage over the series of GIM sessions to the point where she was strong enough to address it head on in the session where God is found in a junkyard covered with ash.

Applying Grof's concepts to Emma's experiences during her GIM sessions, her conscious memories and experiences of grief were connected through her images to this subconscious COEX system. The music being able to activate the entire range of her psyche this way allowed her to clarify the source of her anger, highlight her spiritual crisis and relieve her grief on many levels. Her ability to access these pivotal memories and emotions was facilitated by the emotional breadth of the music and its power to act as a broad, holding, safe container for her work.

It is important to note that spirituality was not a consideration when Emma entered therapy. The holistic qualities of GIM and its ability to affect the whole person highlighted this need in her psyche; it became obvious that she could not move forward with the therapeutic objective of dealing with her grief without also confronting the spiritual issues that existed within her.

Emma's image of God as an old man covered in ash is a profound symbol of her lost faith, not only of her faith in God but perhaps of faith in herself as well. One cannot help but wonder if, in releasing the souls of the holocaust victims, she was also releasing her grief and putting her soul into rehab. The junkyard god seems to be a symbol of the death-rebirth experience of her faith.

After the holocaust session, Emma's description of going to temple services and processing while there represent a definite shift in her thinking and behavior; she describes herself as becoming her own person and in fact developing an inner locus of control as far as her spirituality is concerned. This can be equated with movement from Fowler's (1986) 4th stage of spiritual development, the Individuative-Reflective stage, to his 5th stage of Conjunctive Faith, in which the paradox and truth in contradictions strives to unify opposites in mind and experience. Sitting in temple, Emma was able to explore the contradictions between her old belief system and the new; she accepted the paradoxical nature of her situation and enjoyed the process of thinking it through. The image of the old man covered in ash perfectly fits Fowler's concept of the broken symbol from stage 4; the reworking and opening of the concept of God for Emma clearly came with an understanding that there are many ways to define God and faith. This represented a broadening of her spiritual frame of reference and a new tolerance for Jewish concepts that she had previously rejected.

O'Murchu's (2010) principles of adult faith development involve pursuing truth that is always in the process of being realized while acknowledging the need to honor paradox and one's life experience. Emma's journey demonstrates how the pursuit of personal truth can affect life at all levels. Her movement toward an inner locus of control also becomes apparent in her work life as she finds ways to get what she needs in the way of mentoring from other sources. In her relationship with her mother, Emma pursues and practices the use of boundaries while realizing she can still assist in her mother's care. She is active in the process and aware of the paradoxes involved.

Bonny (1979/2002) writes of the holistic quality of the GIM work in that it “allows all areas of the person to hold importance for exploration and growth” (2002, p. 95). As images of the holocaust asserted themselves in Emma's sessions it became clear that Emma would not explore this material in depth until she was ready. Bonny (1979/2002) notes:

GIM places the responsibility of where and how deeply a client opens himself to inner imaginal processes on the client himself. [W] hen the flow of music brings uncomfortable imagery and feelings to the surface, the experiencer is free to make a choice of responses, either to explore this aspect of himself or to postpone it to a future time. Thus, the client is encouraged to initiate action: a prerequisite for problem-solving activities of all kinds (p. 96).

Emma was able to consolidate her strength and courage over the course of many GIM sessions to move deeper into her images on her own timetable. This gave her a sense of control and safety in the process, one of the outstanding features of GIM work.

Emma has incorporated new self-care actions into her life such as joining a monthly group to discuss spirituality, drawing mandalas on her own, praying at times, monitoring her tendency toward defensiveness with others and consciously creating joyfulness when she can. She is able to feel spiritual, realizes her connection to animals is of spiritual importance, and recognizes her expertise in the helping work she does with others.

GIM provided therapeutic value for Emma's presenting problem of grief while working holistically to rehabilitate and expand her spiritual life, provide cathartic images to release emotion, and create insight to affect a broader range of life issues. She was able to take action on these insights and continues to create a sense of empowerment and to improve her quality of life.

The Bonny Method and Current Trends

The world is finally catching up with GIM. From its inception, GIM has “promote[d] total development, both within and beyond the boundaries of individual personality” (Abrams 2002a, p. 344). As seen with Emma's case, GIM assisted in strengthening her ego over a series of sessions and then helped her transcend the ego in her spiritual and transpersonal sessions to break through her grief to new levels of awareness. Current trends in psychotherapy also highlight the melding of spiritual experience with therapeutic purpose, including strengthening the ego. GIM was achieving similar results from the beginning, over thirty years ago. Meditation has been the primary way of accessing expanded states in verbal transpersonal psychotherapy. Clarkson (2001-2002) equated the stages of a GIM session to factors of enlightenment that result from meditation, including mindfulness. Both methods offer possibilities for profound insights and spiritual transformation. Transpersonal psychotherapy practices, especially the incorporation of meditation and the use of imagery, seem to be entering the mainstream.

Siegel (2010) combines mindfulness meditation, brain science and psychotherapy to focus on the internal world of the mind. Called Mindsight, this technique teaches relaxation, meditation and the use of imagery skills not only to integrate consciousness, but also to promote integrative changes in the brain, primarily to change the way different areas of the brain function and communicate with each other. The effect is to build an awareness of the image of a peaceful, deep inner “sea,” and experience any disturbances from the surface (or outer environment) as unable to disturb the peace below. As with GIM, Mindsight gives the choice and power to the client to initiate the change with the help of the therapist. The mindfulness practice allows one to experience and observe how one's inner mind works. Like GIM, Siegel's technique strives to remove blocks that prevent functioning as a whole.

Recent efforts from Ken Wilber (2007) highlight an “integral vision” of living that highlights four quadrants of development. It is useful to consider these quadrants when processing altered state experiences and how development is facilitated by GIM. The quadrants include transpersonal awareness, development of consciousness, and a map of global development as well. GIM experiences, including peak experiences, certainly assist individuals to glimpse and move into these advanced spiritually-aware levels. Further, Wilber challenges the reader to cultivate body, mind and spirit to expand the human culture through daily practice made up of modules that include meditation, physical exercise, dealing with the shadow and experiencing God. Wilber also encourages these practices on websites that include integral living. See: It seems that this integration of psychotherapy and altered-state practices are again moving into the forefront of the culture, perhaps echoing the formative days of GIM when personal growth held great interest for the general public. Wilber is part of a think tank working toward a global shift. See Laszlo, a noted systems theorist specializing in field theory, as well, promotes a global shift through a movement based on consciousness. See

As Bonny examined the power of GIM to move people into altered states of consciousness, Laszlo (2009) discusses the ability of those in altered states to access what he calls the Akashic Field. This field is a connecting, subtle energy that simultaneously responds to everything else that occurs in the universe; it is what everything in the universe comes from and contains the records of everything that has ever happened. Laszlo's theory speaks to raising global consciousness levels and is on the new edge of scientific study. GIM expands consciousness in that during the music sessions, altered states of consciousness can produce peak experiences, energetic connections with those who have died, transpersonal experiences and imagery that transcends the limitations of time, space and other conventional scientific constructs. Emma's connection with deceased family members and experiences of the holocaust certainly can support the idea of an Akashic experience. Further, these types of experiences are not at all uncommon in GIM work and Laszlo’s theory offers one explanation for them. More study and research is needed on this topic.

GIM has elements of mindfulness in that it requires a sense of self-awareness in the moment during music listening and imaging. When Bonny created GIM, holistic results in psychotherapy were not a consideration. Current educational course offerings for therapists of all types demonstrate that the psychotherapy field is rife with techniques that embody holistic, mindfulness-oriented methods.

Greater acceptance exists today in general society and in the worldwide therapeutic community toward various holistically-based practices, including music therapy. The use of guided imagery in general, with and without music, is seen in psychiatric facilities as well as hospitals, complimentary-alternative medicine, and sports. Post graduate degree programs in guided imagery are offered in many institutions of higher learning worldwide. We've come a long way since Bonny developed GIM and was instructed not to mention mystical experiences. It is fair to say that Bonny was at the forefront of modern trends in global practices in psychotherapy and certainly an innovator that was well before her time in music therapy and holistically-based theory and practice.

Clearly, many transpersonal psychology concepts, practices, and ways of healing are moving toward the mainstream in many parts of the world. The Bonny Method stands out among other practices, both spiritual and psychotherapeutic, because of the music that accesses expanded states of consciousness. The stream of consciousness (James, 1910) that runs constantly in our heads is the least common denominator of humanity; every human being experiences this phenomenon. The higher states of consciousness may constitute the highest common denominator of humankind. Each time a GIM client reaches these expanded states of consciousness, perhaps this “situating” can be considered a contribution to that global shift towards the evolution of human consciousness. If the ego-centered life were to be left behind, and the shift in global consciousness occurred, then, in Bonny’s words, “inclusionary attitudes of love, acceptance, adoration, appreciation of all life forms, a sense of unity and purpose that extends into the past and into the future” (2001/2002, p. 179) could become a reality.


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