Music and imagery refers to a range of techniques and processes that are practiced in receptive methods of music therapy which involve intentional listening to music. It is music therapy for people in recovery (from depression, trauma or substance use), self-discovery or who will benefit from some support (eg health professionals). Music and imagery sessions include combinations of the facets described below. Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) involves them all.
First, let’s talk
At the beginning of a music and imagery session, we will spend some time in discussion. We will talk a bit about lifestyle, social context and what your current experience (feeling and energy) is. The therapist will be interested in what you interested in focusing on or exploring in sessions generally, and in this particular session.
The therapist will provide any information you need about the format for the session by outlining exactly what will happen. There may be some options to choose from. There may be resources or practices offered to follow up beyond the session.
Clarify the intent
What brings you to this session? Sometimes we just need a break, a space to allow our authentic experience to be and to unravel. At the start, it’s natural to gently dip our toe in to the experience of music and imagery “to test the waters” and get a feel for the process and see what it reveals. An approach of curiosity, play and adventure is encouraged!
Often initial and early music and imagery sessions focus on themes of support. We identify and access strengths. Sometimes there’s a specific area that needs attention: a troubled relationship, a pattern of behaviour that’s not working (eg “I can’t relax”) or a challenging feeling that’s demanding attention (eg I get cranky with my partner). Together, we identify the priority for the current session.
Relax the body
Allowing stress to affect us constantly can lead to depression and illness. Knowing how to relax is vital for ensuring health and well-being. As a general practice it can help restore passion and joy in your life.
In music and imagery, “relaxation” is supported and facilitated by the therapist. The relaxation practice may build on skills and capacities that you already have or introduce you to new ways in which you can let go of tension held in the body. A relaxed body is essential preparation for the music listening experience.
The “relaxation” stage of the process may involve a body scan of all the feelings and sensations that are arising moment to moment. In all cases this stage enables a shift from everyday awareness to a heightened “inner” awareness.
Focus the attention
With relaxation, our attention becomes focused “inwards” and we pay attention to what occurs there with an attitude of openness, acceptance and curiosity towards everything that is present. As much as we are capable of allowing, we put aside critical or limiting judgments about our experience welcome the flow and stream of experience without needing to monitor or exclude anything.
When we do this, things are unnoticed or obscured in the background in everyday living come to the surface of awareness.
There is a stream of experience that might include body sensations and subtle energies, emotions, thoughts, pictures in the mind (images), beliefs, memories, judgments and desires. With our attention tuned to our present experience, a greater sensitivity and response-ability to all that is occurring begins to increases. It is a practice requiring courage and trust to allow this inner attentiveness to commence and continue in increasing depth.
Being relaxed and ready for the music imaging to commence, the participant is asked to be with an image that has been discussed and selected together earlier in the session. The image was selected to fit what the participant wants to address or explore. Some examples include a favourite place in nature (to allow relaxation and rejuvenation), a particular person (to address a relationship), a colour and/or object (to represent a strong feeling or situation) or an open path (to explore new possibilities). The image is the launch point for the music listening to commence
Listen to the music
The music is the primary catalyst for inner exploration and discovery in music and imagery. The therapist acts as a facilitator by selecting the music and supporting the participant’s attention, engagement and response to it. The music chosen is orchestral music (often Western classical) which has rich structure and enables deepening consciousness and sustained involvement with the major themes or issues of the internal world. The music evokes affect and imagery. It can push or pull, comfort or stimulate.
The length of this section of the session may be a few minutes (3-12 minutes) for introductory or group sessions, or considerably longer (30-50 mins) for individual therapeutic work.
Engage with the imagery
Listening with full attention and allowing spontaneous feeling and imaginative responses, the music provides a rich stimulus and guide to an unfolding inner journey. The experience is something like a dream undertaken consciously. A spirit of playfulness and curiosity supports the process without habitual limitations and inhibitions.
In short individual or group sessions, each person explores their imagery either by listening only, or by drawing or writing while listening. In full individual sessions, the participant verbally reports their music imaging experience as it occurs.
Integrate the insights
The music comes to an end, and the therapist gently supports the listener’s transition to awareness of the physical world. It’s time to express in form (often through drawing) what stands out from the experience with the music. We reflect on what feelings or occurrences are most memorable. Insights can continue to occur and unfold in the hours, days and weeks to come after the music and imagery session.