Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the similarities and differences between Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) and EMDR. People have heard of, or perhaps experienced, EMDR sessions, and they’re curious about GIM. Hopefully this post will answer some of those questions!
It’s a music-centered psychotherapy approach developed by music therapist Helen Bonny in the 1970’s to help people deal with and manage their mental health problems. Bonny was working in conjunction with psychiatrists at Maryland Psychiatric Institute. At the time they were conducting clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of hallucinogenic drugs on mental illnesses. She incorporated classical music into the drug experiments with beneficial effects. When the psychiatrists could no longer use hallucinogenic drugs with the patients, they continued the research studies using only the music. And they found it to be as effective as when it was paired with the drugs. Bonny continued to develop the GIM approach for decades afterwards.
Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy was developed in the late 1980’s by Francine Shapiro. She discovered that certain eye movements seemed to decrease negative emotions related to traumatic memories. EMDR is a psychotherapy approach designed to alleviate the distress associated with PTSD and other traumas through eye movements, cognitive retraining, and audio stimulation. For decades, Shapiro has continued to conduct research studies and further develop the approach.
Both approaches require additional training and education. GIM therapists are credentialed through the Association for Music and Imagery. Once all three levels of GIM training have been completed, the therapist becomes a Fellow of the Association for Music and Imagery and will carry the FAMI designation. EMDR therapists must complete two levels of advanced training. They are then registered with the EMDR Institute of America.
GIM and EMDR are both supported by research. Both integrate aspects of more traditional psychological approaches like cognitive behavioral, experiential, psychodynamic, and client-centered therapies. During GIM and EMDR sessions, clients are guided to experience distressing emotions while simultaneously paying attention to an external stimulus (music in GIM, eye movements in EMDR). Both approaches also work to transform those distressing experiences into positive ones, and they build on the strengths of the client.
As mentioned in the answer above, GIM uses music as the external focus while EMDR uses eye movements. Research has indicated that EMDR is most effective for trauma-related problems, while research supports the use of GIM for a wider variety of mental health issues (depression, anxiety, grief) including trauma-related ones. EMDR follows a very structured session protocol while GIM sessions are more improvisational in nature.
As always, if you have more questions, I’m always happy to answer them! Or if you’re curious about how GIM might help you, feel free to contact me.
~Stephanie Bolton, MA, MT-BC, FAMI