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Music & Consciousness: The Evolution of Guided Imagery and Music

br2005048Bonny, Helen (2002). Music & Consciousness: The Evolution of Guided Imagery and Music. (Edited by Lisa Summer) Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.

Helen Bonny has said that she is not a philosopher. She has also said that she can be called a pioneer simply because of years and experience. But Helen Bonny is a pioneer in the truest sense of the word, and is a philosopher in her quest to understand the nature and meaning of music, our consciousness, and our spirituality. Standing as a testament to this is Music & Consciousness: The Evolution of Guided Imagery and Music, a collection of writings, lectures and addresses by Helen Bonny, compiled and edited by Lisa Summer, and published by Barcelona Publishers.

The collection consists of both previously published and unpublished writings by Bonny, as well as written versions of some of her speaking engagements. The first thirteen chapters are presented chronologically, and do indeed describe the evolution of Bonny’s discovery and development of her humanistic method of music psychotherapy known as Guided Imagery and Music, or GIM. The next five chapters include writings that demonstrate the evolution of GIM through case studies, research, and discussions of clinical applications of the method. The next three chapters are writings that Bonny prepared specifically for students and practitioners of GIM, and which give more in-depth information about the components of the method itself. Finally, a previously unpublished case study from Bonny’s doctoral dissertation is presented, including the client’s mandalas, or circle drawings, and art therapist Joan Kellogg’s interpretations of the mandalas. Summer indicates in her preface that this case study has also been augmented with Bonny’s own notes on the sessions presented in the study.

The most striking feature of this book is that while one reads it, it becomes clear that much more is being told than just the story of the development of a methodology. One is also aware that a rather unusual history of the profession is being told, one that is somewhat different than the histories of the profession offered in other books and publications. Although the only actual history that is written in the book is that of Bonny’s development of GIM, her telling of the growth of GIM through hard work, serendipity, and struggle, along with information supplied in Summer’s editorial comments, paints an interesting picture of the prevailing thoughts and attitudes of the profession through the years.

Additionally, one is aware that they are hearing the story of a woman and her own personal history within the profession. Placed together in this collection, these writings create in the reader an understanding of how the evolution of GIM is also the evolution of Bonny’s quest to bring to others her experience of music’s potential to deeply heal the mind, body, and spirit. It is her struggles as a woman in the world of science, and as an innovator and pioneer among her colleagues, to bring to light these potentials in order that they may be used where others most need them. Bonny shares with the reader her mistakes and failures as well as her successes. She shares credit with many others with whom she worked over the years and from whom she gained insights that led her to further develop her method. She even shares the discouragement given to her from those she respected and admired. As a true pioneer, in response to both the triumphs and the roadblocks, Bonny continued to ask herself, “How?” How can this be better understood? How can this be used more effectively? How can this be brought to those who need it?

Summer’s editorial comments at the beginning of each chapter are integral in bringing these different facets to light within Bonny’s writings. They place each chapter within a context that otherwise might be unknown to the reader, and sometimes provide facts or illuminate events which Summer knows first hand as a student and friend of Bonny’s. Since a number of these writings have been published elsewhere, the reader may recognize some of what s/he reads. S/he may be surprised, however, at how much more meaningful each seems when placed within the context of Bonny’s other writings. The arrangement of writings in the book allow the reader to experience them as a story, the parts of which have fleshed each other out and have melded into a whole, truly a credit to Summer’s editing.

I am a music therapist, and I was trained in GIM by some of Helen Bonny’s own students. I had heard much of the information in this book during my training, and had read a good number of Bonny’s articles in the professional publications. However, as I read this book, I repeatedly wished that I had had it while I was in GIM training. It has a clarity of thought and intent that only Bonny, being the primary source, can bring to the information. Also, experiencing the information as a whole aids in understanding the hows and whys of the method in a manner that is lost to some extent when the information is received in pieces. Certainly, the chapters on guiding techniques, and understanding and analyzing Bonny’s music programs are materials that GIM trainees can benefit from and return to repeatedly as a resource. It would be appropriate if this book were to become a textbook for GIM trainees.

Music & Consciousness has plenty to offer the GIM practitioner, too. First of all, it is the only collection of writings by the founder of the method. Second, as the number of GIM practitioners has continued to grow over the decades, there are probably some recent generations of GIM therapists who do not know the whole GIM story. Having this information will add depth to their understanding of the GIM process. Additionally, having information about how Bonny shaped and molded GIM as she began to use it in different ways could be enlightening as current practitioners develop more and more approaches to GIM. Particularly in this way, Music & Consciousness, together with Guided Imagery and Music: the Bonny Method and Beyond (Bruscia and Grocke, 2002), provides the GIM therapist with an extensive library of GIM resource information that can assist her/him in developing her/his practice within a wide range of populations.

Others who may find this book helpful are music therapists who are interested in pursuing GIM training, or in participating in GIM for their own personal therapy. The inclusion of case materials along with Bonny’s discussions of the method itself give the reader a good representation of what might be expected from the GIM process. Music therapists who are newer professionals may find this book helpful as their increasing experience leads them to seek ways to more fully understand the influence of music on the mind and the spirit, and instigates their desire to continue training in order to work on deeper levels of the psyche. Also, because of the historical nature of the collection, those who study the development of music therapy as a profession may find in these writings a perspective that they previously lacked.

All too often, those who are pioneers and innovators are not fully appreciated within their own lifetimes, and it is only after their deaths that their work is pieced together into volumes. How fortune we are that Helen Bonny’s work could be collected into a volume with the help of her own knowledge and insight as it was compiled. Music & Consciousness is representative of Bonny’s major contribution to the field of music therapy, and as such, will take it’s place on the bookshelf along side those of the “founding mothers and fathers” and other important theorists and innovators in music therapy.


Bruscia, Kenneth E., and Grocke, Denise (Eds.) (2002). Guided Imagery and Music: the Bonny Method and Beyond. Gilsum, NH:Barcelona Publishers.

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