GIM – Guided Imagery and Music

What is Guided Imagery and Music (GIM)?

Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) is a therapeutic process using music and a trained facilitator to create an environment in which one can experience personal insights that provide answers and guidance for important life issues.

Guided Imagery and Music:

  •  is a guided experience designed to help people find their own answers about life goals, critical events, relationships, behavior patterns and health issues
  •  brings people into an immediate experience of a problem or issue, enabling them to work through problems much faster than traditional counseling methods
  •  is a process for integrating past experiences and future goals into direction for best next-step action and problem resolution in present situations
  • provides an opportunity for emotions to be recognized, released and then processed productively
  • is recognized as a psychotherapeutic method by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA)

The method encourages:

  • honesty with oneself—the images one has in a GIM journey bypass mental thought processes and are later integrated
  • commitment to change because the AHA! of insight and resulting problem resolution comes from the one’s own perceptions
  • acceptance of the learning processes of life as one sees the “big picture” of life in

GIM sessions teach:

  • trust as the process teaches how to accept the unfolding of the healing process
  • conscious living—as one experiences the benefits of action, based on personal reflection and understanding of oneself, it is possible to live with more conscious awareness of actions and goals
  • creativity and intuition which develop through the process of finding positive results, based upon ones’ own insights

Who benefits from GIM?

GIM has been used as a problem-solving method for a wide range of issues. It has been found to be useful for people seeking help with:

  • relationship problems
  • divorce-related issues
  • career changes
  • health problems
  • stress-related problems
  • anxiety
  • grief and loss
  • depression
  • addictions
  • sexual abuse
  • creativity blocks
  • goal-setting
  • clarity about life experiences

GIM is not recommended for people with serious mental disorders. It has the potential for uncovering deep emotional issues and unconscious material. This is not helpful for persons who are struggling to maintain balance and deal with the realities of everyday life.

 What happens in a GIM session?
In a GIM experience, one becomes a “traveler” in an inner journey with the GIM facilitator, working as a guide to assist in the process. Sessions generally last 1 to 1½ hours.

Each session begins with a discussion of significant issues and concerns of the traveler. A focus or intention is agreed upon, and the guide chooses appropriate music for the session. Once these preparations are complete, the traveler lies down and closes his or her eyes. The guide helps the traveler into a relaxed and focused state and then begins the music.

The Music Experience
The music evokes images, sensations, and feelings and the traveler and guide dialogue together about the unfolding “journey.” The traveler spontaneously describes experiences stimulated by the music while the guide supports and encourages. The program of music selections usually lasts 30 – 40 minutes.

Closure and Integration
When the music ends, the guide helps the traveler gain closure and return to an alert state. The remainder of the session is spent reflecting on the traveler’s images and experiences and, if appropriate, their relevance to life issues. Often, the art therapy technique of mandala drawing is used to bring the experience into greater clarity.

Music and Imagery as Insight Tools

The imagery in GIM is not directed from a script and does not come from the guide. The imagery unfolds from the person experiencing the session in a spontaneous manner, stimulated and carried by the music and by skilled guiding. This process works easily, without having to think about or plan the imagery.

The process energizes self-healing in the form of dream-like images that have great personal relevance. This phenomenon parallels the ability of the injured physical body to activate white blood cells and other functions to bring about physical healing. The mind and spirit also have an innate capacity for self-healing that is triggered by the music and the environment that is created.

GIM music is chosen from the great masterworks of composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Debussy, Vaughan Williams and many others. The selected music was researched by GIM founder Dr. Helen Bonny and formulated into specific music programs.

GIM facilitators are trained in the use of these programs and the methods necessary to create an optimal environment and assist travelers in their imagery journeys. Some of the Mid-Atlantic music programs use contemporary musicians such as Daniel Kobialka, Michael Hoppe, Tingstad and Rumbel, Paul Winter, Kostia, David Arkenstone and others.

The use of music and imagery in the focused, relaxed state created in GIM encourages unresolved issues to surface and helps to remove mental, emotional, and spiritual blocks to problem-solving. It also awakens new levels of creativity while encouraging a deep inner connection to what is most meaningful to the individual.

History of Guided Imagery and Music

Helen L. Bonny, Ph.D., RMT, a music therapist, brought her special knowledge of the potential of music for helping people enter deep levels of consciousness to a research team in Baltimore, exploring altered states of consciousness. She felt that music was the perfect vehicle for exploration of the mind because it could carry someone through the heights and depths of an experience. Eventually, she developed a powerful yet safe therapeutic method for healing using music—the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music. This method honors the ancient method of awakening inner vision to connect with meaning and conscious action.

The Mid-Atlantic Institute

The Mid-Atlantic Institute was founded to provide training in the Guided Imagery and Music model. Founders of the Institute, Carol A. Bush MSW, LCSW and Sierra Stokes-Stearns Ph.D., MT-BC have been pioneers in the practice, development and application of GIM. The Institute now has many trainers teaching GIM.

Training in Guided Imagery and Music

GIM training is useful in a wide variety of professional fields including:

  • private-practice therapy
  • school, organizational and pastoral counseling practices
  • nursing
  • hospice
  • mind-body practices
  • music therapy
  • mental health organizations

Chris Boyd Brewer offers training in GIM.
An introductory workshop entitled, Rhythms of Healing, is available in a one-day or 3-hour format. She also offers the three levels of certified GIM training. Chris’ training and that offered by the Mid-Atlantic Institute and its trainers are approved for all levels of training by the Association for Music and Imagery (AMI).

Researchers from The Institute for Health and Healing at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco assessed whether a program of six, weekly Interactive Guided Imagery (IGI) sessions was useful in helping 323 medical patients with a variety of conditions gain insight into their health condition. In addition, they aimed to identify the factors that contributed to positive outcomes. (Interactive Guided Imagery is a cognitive behavioral intervention designed to help patients relax by using mental images to discover and cultivate healing intentions, and to reflect on the meaning of these images.)

Patients and practitioners completed questionnaires at the beginning, middle, and end of the six IGI sessions. The questionnaires assessed the patients’ ability to do IGI, the quality of the practitioner-patient interaction, possible confounding variables, and enabling factors. Questionnaire items measuring cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual benefits of IGI were factor-analyzed into factors representing “insight” and “all other” benefits.


  • The multiple regression shows that both process and practitioner-patient interaction factors significantly contributed to a combined 40% of the variance in patients’ ratings of insight into the nature of their problem and to becoming aware of an aspect of self.
  • The investigators conclude that process of doing IGI and the relationship with the practitioner were both independently associated with patients’ insight into their health problems.

Citation: Scherwitz LW, McHenry P, Herrero R. Interactive Guided Imagery(SM) Therapy with Medical Patients: Predictors of Health Outcomes. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2005  

Trauma is one aspect of a person’s life that can now be effectively addressed through the use of guided imagery. The following book can be of use to those who are struggling to move through trauma in an appropriate way.

And what does Guided Imagery (GIM) have to do with our work as harp therapy practitioners?

We can benefit from being aware of this type of training, on a personal as well as professional level. Personally, as a powerful tool for our own self-analysis, we might want to take GIM training ourselves, in order to deal with certain traumas or deep-seated anxieties of our own.

It is obvious that we make more effective “vessels for healing” if our own self-knowledge is balanced, holistic and without hidden agendas or unresolved issues.

Obviously, it is not our role as harp practitioners to act as counselors or psychotherapists if we are not trained in this field. We cannot begin to approach what GIM instructors do with their patients, nor would we want to. However, as the excerpt demonstrated at the beginning of this chapter, we as therapeutic harp practitioners, may find ourselves in the midst of a patient’s “aha!” experience.

We need to let the individual feel comfortable in talking and releasing their feelings and insights, IF THAT IS WHAT IS MEETING us at the moment we are playing harp for them. We can play softly while they talk to us, something very simple and slow, because it is, after all, the music that has allowed these feelings to surface. Let the music do its own therapy.

We are not trained to respond verbally as a psychotherapist would do. Rather, our role as harp therapy practitioners is to accept their feelings, and continue to play. Perhaps after we play, we can suggest the GIM website or in-depth counseling as a referral. We might also want to suggest journaling for them, as a way to go deeper into their own self-analysis.

Visualization of any kind should be welcomed by us as harp practitioners, as we journey with a patient into the unknown. It is an inherent quality of human existence and an effective means through which music can speak to our patients, far beyond the notes that we play.