Abstract: This is the second article in a two-part series dealing with transference phenomena in GIM. The first gives an overview of the construct itself. The purpose of this article is to examine specific ways in which transference dynamic can be activated, configured, and expressed in GIM psychotherapy. Clinical examples are used as a basis for discussion.


As discussed in the preceding article, transference occurs whenever a client interacts within the ongoing therapy situation in ways which resemble past relationships with significant persons or things in the client's life. The "source" of a transference is the person or thing from the client's past being re-created or brought into the present therapy situation, and the "object" of a transference is the person or thing in the therapeutic situation which is being equated with or treated like the source.

Transferences arise and are expressed in a variety of ways, and with uniquely different qualities or dimensions. The following questions can be used to analyze or describe a transference:

-- How much of the past and present are represented in the transference?

-- How distorted are the client's perceptions of and reactions to the ongoing therapy?

-- Is a transference evoked by an inner, psychic structure in the client or is it a co-creation of both client and therapist?

-- How aware is the client of the transference?

-- Which developmental stage is the basis for transference -- Oedipal or preoedipal?

-- Does the transference refer to the client's mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandparent, caregiver, husband, wife, sibling or friend?

-- Is the transference directed towards a thing (such as music) or a person (such as the therapist)?

-- Does the transference have one or more sources, and/or one or more objects?

-- Is it a positive or negative transference?

-- Does the client have this transference only in therapy or elsewhere in real life?

-- Does the client express the transference in the presence or absence of the object?

While these questions are useful in defining a transference once it occurs, still missing in our discussion is how to identify or recognize a transference reaction in a clinical situation, and in GIM in particular. The purpose of this article, then, is to explore specific ways in which transferences are activated, configured and expressed in GIM.

We will begin by examining how the objects, sources and emotional valences of a transference dynamic can be configured in GIM therapy. We will then survey those aspects of GIM which activate transferences, and the many ways that clients have to express them. Clinical examples will be used as a basis for the discussion.


GIM enables a client to project transferences onto not just one object, as in traditional forms of verbal therapy, but onto three objects -- the therapist, the music, and the imagery. Although one might expect that transferences are directed towards these objects separately and independently, I have found that in clinical reality, the therapist, music and imagery are inseparable and interdependent parts of a larger dynamic: they cannot be considered as separate, isolated transference objects, independent or outside of the context of one another. Put another way, I believe that in GIM, clients do not develop a transference with either therapist, music, or imagery, or separate transferences towards each one; rather they develop an entire transference dynamic or configuration wherein all three objects are implicated to varying degrees. In such a configuration, one object is usually in the foreground of the dynamic, while one or both of the others are in the background. Thus, a transference towards the therapist implies another with the music and/or imagery; a transference towards the music implies another with the therapist and/or imagery; and a transference towards or within the imagery implies another with the therapist and/or music. To further understand this, let us go to the clinical example of Jack.

Case Example: Jack

Jack talked nonstop throughout most sessions. I rarely got more than a few words in, and it always required interrupting him. It was the most controlling behavior I have never encountered. It prevented me from asking questions, reflecting feelings, offering ideas, or giving him any support or encouragement, during both the discussions and the music imaging experiences. Basically, my role was to keep my mouth shut throughout most of the session (except for the induction), unless he asked for or really needed a response of some kind.

Jack seemed very afraid that if he allowed me to talk, I would disturb his defenses in some way. Perhaps he was trying to keep out of awareness much of the denial and intellectualization that permeated his life. Losing his defenses would threaten the precarious balance he was trying to maintain and force him to acknowledge how unlivable his life had become. That realization in turn would force him to change; he would have to face himself and do something about his life. Of course, Jack wanted desperately to change his life, and he also earnestly wanted therapy to be successful. But the scared part of Jack could not take the risks involved. And so to defend himself, Jack had to control me. Rather than take power and control over his own life, he had to render me powerless and useless as a therapist.

At the same time, Jack always tried to be the "good" client. Most of his talking had one main theme: how despite his many problems, he was continually making progress in changing his life, not only because he was working so hard and gaining so many insights (on his own), but also because I was a wonderful therapist and GIM was a fantastically effective method of therapy.

Another way that Jack was a good client was in how sensitive he was to the music when imaging. Despite his continuous talking during the music listening, Jack always responded very acutely to every nuance of the music, and frequently created or modified the imagery to accommodate whatever was happening in the music. He also reacted quite physically and emotionally to the music, and often engaged in dialogues with it. He rarely criticized my tape choices, and in fact, nearly always raved about how wonderful he music was.

What an intriguing triangle! He controlled me, I controlled the music, and the music controlled him and the imagery. He was afraid of me no matter what I did, but trusted the music no matter what it did. Jack's imaging depended entirely on what happened in the music, and the content of his imagery always brought solutions to his problems. To me, these imaginary solutions seemed contrived to tell him what he wanted to hear; in fact, they often supported his denial and intellectualization.

What makes this dynamic transferential is that these patterns of interacting paralleled how Jack had related to his mother for most of his life. Jack's mother tried to control him through incessant verbal criticism and nagging. Jack resisted by either not listening to her talk or by talking over her. But regardless of this resistance to her, Jack would always do whatever she wanted, and then justify it to himself by saying that it was really what he wanted to do all along. In effect, Jack was saying to her (and me): I will not listen to you, but because I want to be a good son, I will do what you want me to do by listening to myself talk and coming up with the same thing. In GIM, Jack tuned me out, and instead listened to the music I gave him, and then came up with what he imagined I wanted him to do.

Paradoxically, Jack rendered both his mother and me powerless, by giving us too much power over him. In reality, he was hypersensitive to every expectation he thought we had of him, and he seemed to need our approval desperately. For him, the only way to survive these feelings was to both listen and not listen to us, to both resist and succumb to our expectations, to make us powerlessly powerful figures, and to resist any control we might exert over him.


By having three objects of transference available in GIM, clients are afforded rich opportunities to explore both positive and negative feelings towards many different relationships from their past. Thus, altogether a transference dynamic has three basic components: 1) how the therapist, music, and imagery are configured as interrelated objects of transference; 2) the valence of the feelings being transferred onto each object (i.e., specific positive or negative emotions); and 3) the significant persons from the client's life that are implicated.

Jack's transference dynamic centered primarily around his mother, and though not discussed above, it also involved his father. Still, his story gives a good picture of how positive and negative valences are distributed across the three transference objects in GIM. He transferred certain negative feelings towards his mother onto me (e.g., resistance and control), and reserved the corresponding positive feelings for the music (e.g., cooperation and respect). He transferred his positive feelings of affection towards his mother onto both the music and me. No negative feelings were ever transferred onto the music, except possibly his dependence on it for imaging. In his imagery, Jack created characters around many different admired and despised qualities of his mother (e.g., rejecting/accepting, aggressive/passive, etc.), and in many instances, the opposite qualities belonged to his father.

Notice how many possibilities there are within any transference dynamic. The client may transfer a specific emotion (e.g., respect) from one significant person (e.g., mother) to one object (e.g., therapist); or the client may transfer several similar emotions (e.g., jealousy, anger, revenge) from several significant persons (e.g., father, brother, partner) towards only one object (e.g., therapist) or towards several objects (e.g., most male characters in the imagery, or certain pieces of music); or the client may split positive and negative emotions (e.g., love and fear) from one or more significant persons (e.g., father versus mother) towards either one object (e.g., music) or several (e.g., music, therapist, and imagery).

It is best to assume that a transference dynamic will always contain both positive and negative emotions, and that some will be manifest and others will be latent. This is important because the way positive and negative emotions are configured within the transference dynamic reveals how the client uses the defense mechanism of "splitting." Splitting reveals whom or what in the therapy environment, the client perceives as: all good, all bad, either good or bad, or both good and bad at the same time. This in turn reveals how the client split his parents according to the same good-bad perceptions.

The case example below goes one step further than the previous one in showing how positive and negative transferences refer back to several significant others in the client's life.

Case Example: Bob

Bob's initial GIM sessions brought him through many painful experiences from the past, and it took several sessions before he was able to move into more positive, healing experiences. While making this transition, he became very critical of anything positive that appeared in his imagery. Nothing ever seemed quite "good enough." In one session, for example, Bob began to ascend into heaven, accompanied by Bach's beautiful Double Violin Concerto. On the way, he encountered an angel spinning backward from the center of his spine, who appeared in order to guide Bob into the many rooms of heaven. When asked how he felt about the angel, Bob replied: "I'm OK with him, but I don't know why he is leading me into heaven; I'd rather be down here on earth getting a little more understanding right now." (Already, the events and statements are loaded with transference material!).

As Bob followed the angel through heaven he reported: "There's a room ahead, but it looks like there is nothing in there but bright light. I knew it! Heaven's just a bunch of empty rooms. I wish there was a fleshy party going on in there, but there isn't. Oh well, I'll go inside anyway. What the hell, maybe the music will be better in there than it is in here!"

The connections that Bob unconsciously made in this session were quite striking. Bob's father had a back problem, Bob had a back problem, I had a back problem; and the angel was spinning backward from his back. To him, all four were men going nowhere, two guides and two travellers! Like the angel, I was also "guiding" Bob with bright light- into an empty room. Bob felt that his father was unable to give him the support and understanding that he needed to cope with his demanding mother, and apparently he felt that I was equally inadequate in this regard. In real life, his father's guidance was meaningless in counteracting his mother's demands, and Bob may have felt the same about my guidance as well. Bob's mother was never satisfied with anything that Bob did, she always wanted more. Nothing Bob had or did was good enough, and in GIM with Bob, neither the music, the images or I were good enough either.

Though it may seem contradictory, Bob felt very comfortable with me: he trusted me enough to enter into very deep altered states, he was not ashamed to tell me anything, he often cried in my arms, and he came to me when he needed to talk to someone. In this regard, I felt that, regardless of any inadequacies he may have perceived in me, he knew that I accepted and cared for him unconditionally. Within a transference dynamic, such seemingly contradictory feelings are quite common, because the client often projects many different significant others onto the same object.

Notwithstanding Bob's negative father transference, his positive feelings towards me established a link with the one person in his life that he loved unconditionally and who loved him unconditionally -- his deceased grandmother. He frequently called out to her during sessions, but she did not come to him. After searching everywhere, during many sessions, Bob finally found his grandmother, and in just the right place -- heaven. Much to Bob's chagrin, heaven turned out to be more than a bunch of empty rooms after all! Bob had finally found and reclaimed the love he had missed so much. Interestingly, in this session, Bob took on many of the loving and tolerant qualities of his grandmother: he loved the music, he accepted me as a guide, he got what he wanted in his images, and he even discovered something about heaven. Finally, after regaining lost love, we were all good enough for Bob (even God)!


Although clients bring myriad feelings and needs from the past into therapy -- both positive and negative -- there are certain basic issues which, because of their centrality to the developmental process, nearly always find expression through transference. In my own experience, there are at least four such issues: dependency and trust, boundaries, control, and love. Like objects and sources in the transference dynamic, these issues are usually configured by each client in a unique way. That is, one issue is usually in the foreground of the work in therapy, while the others provide a context or background for how that issue emerges and is expressed.

Dependency and Trust

During fetal life, infancy, and childhood, we have to depend almost entirely upon our parents to meet our basic physical and psychological needs, and to maintain a safe and supporting holding environment. When clients come to therapy, they come with many similar expectations and apprehensions: Will I be safe here? Who will take care of me when I cannot do it myself? Will my needs be met? Will I survive? Who and what can I trust in this environment?

Certainly, both Jack and Bob had trust issues. Jack did not feel safe if I talked; his holding environment was vulnerable to the speech sounds of his mother. Bob felt as if he had a damaged holding environment: his mother was absent but critical, and his father was too weak to hold himself up, let alone Bob. The next case provides a very unusual but fascinating example of how trust issues can be targeted in a transference dynamic.

Case Example: Tom

Tom and I seemed to have a good client-therapist relationship. He respected me professionally, and often recommended me to his friends by telling them how much he was benefitting from GIM therapy with me. We seemed to have a solid and comfortable rapport. But on another level, I felt that Tom mistrusted me, and I did not know why. This mistrust manifested itself in two ways: first, his reactions to my choice of music, and then his discomfort with physical contact.

Frequently, after being halfway into the relaxation period, Tom would open one eye and look at me, as if spying, and jokingly say: "And don't torture me with any of that god-awful music!" He would laugh heartily, and I would try to ignore his comment and continue with the induction. I never quite understood what Tom was trying to communicate with this pattern. Then one day, when using a boom box, interference came through the radio, and we began to hear voices superimposed on the taped music. He became very agitated, and in the imagery scene, the environment began to get very polluted. Suddenly, Tom began accusing me of purposely putting subliminal messages on the tapes. While this is certainly not a bizarre interpretation for him to make, the intensity and seriousness of his reaction surprised me. After the music ended, he continued to express his suspicions, asking me quite insistently whether I had put any subliminal messages on the tapes. His tone and level of concern indicated to me that if there were such messages, he had already assumed that they were harmful rather than therapeutic. Given the intensity of his reaction and the images, I felt as if he was accusing me of poisoning him, at least metaphorically. Perhaps this came from my knowledge that he had contracted the AIDS virus, and was thus very concerned over ingesting any toxin without knowing about it.

After this incident, I began to be more aware of how guarded he was physically. Although he allowed and even sought physical contact on occasion, he seemed uncomfortable at a deeper level, as if he was working hard not to recoil or tighten up his body when touched or hugged. Eventually, I began to understand this discomfort as another kind of fear of being poisoned with AIDS: just as the music and subliminal messages were unwanted psychological intrusions, he seemed to regard body contact as potentially harmful physical intrusions.

Although there seemed to be only one obvious source for the transference, the person who infected him with the AIDS virus, I believe that his parents were also implicated. Developmentally, this kind of transference (and the imagery used to express it) can hark back to stages of birth and early infancy involving symbiotic union with mother. The idea that Tom was in an altered state of consciousness, feeling quite blissful until these subliminal messages intruded upon him, reminded me of the disturbance in intrauterine life caused when the birthing process begins. The water breaks, the womb is flooded, and the fetus begins its descent, sometimes struggling to survive the various life disturbances involved in the birthing experience. In Tom's case, one disturbance may have involved the release of toxins in his mother's womb or pollution from his father's sperm. Tom's disturbance also reminded me of an unsuspecting, blissful infant nursing at the breast, being suspicious of his mother's milk being poisonous.

Trust issues emanating from these very early stages of life are often related to boundary problems, for during these times of development, the fetus and infant have boundaries which are merged with mother's. In Tom's case, these times of merging during the symbiotic stages of life were somehow being reactivated by sexual activity (which is another form of merging) and by the insemination that accompanies it (which when related to the AIDS virus is another form of subliminal poisoning).


One of the most difficult and challenging tasks for the fetus and later the infant is to leave the symbiotic union with mother to become a separate, whole, and independent being. Each of us accomplishes this in different ways and at different levels, with certain aspects of who we are fully or partially differentiated, and others still fused with mother. When clients come to GIM therapy, their capacity for boundary delineation greatly affects how they interact and relate to the therapist, music, and elements of their imagery. The challenge is to determine who feels what, and to clarify who is doing what to whom. What is alike and different between self and therapist, self and music, and self and elements of the imagery?

Case Example: Diane

Diane's entire process in GIM therapy, spanning about 18 months, centered around her struggle with the music. From the very first session, she found herself either losing her boundaries completely or needing to be separate from and in total control of the music. It was as if she loved and needed the music, but that whenever it entered or moved her, she realized how vulnerable she was to it, and this would make her panic and shut down.

Diane tried everything imaginable to avoid or manage the music. Often she would extend the prelude discussion so that we would not have enough time for a complete GIM experience. She would avoid going into deep altered states of consciousness, and keep parts of her body tense, almost like armors against the the music and its vibrations. Whenever the music became threatening or too active, she would ignore or block it out, and to help accomplish that, she often became hyperattentive in other sensory modalities, especially smell. Sometimes she would complain that she feared the music because she never knew what it would bring. During her imaging, she tried attacking it, pleading with it, conducting it, listening to it, and cajoling it to go away.

On those occasions when she found the music to be nurturing or comforting, she would allow herself to enjoy the positive feelings and benefits for a few moments, and then would immediately begin to mistrust its intentions or motives. She could never relinquish control of herself completely to the music, no matter how pleasurable or healing it was. As she progressed, I discovered that she responded very positively to female vocal music and had the worst time with active or intense orchestral music, or any music that changed frequently or unpredictably. I began to limit the music programs I used to Quiet Music, Nurturing, Relationships, and Comforting, and frequently added pieces such as the Pie Jesu from Faure's Requiem and the second movement of Gorecki's Third Symphony. I also had her listen to each music program prior to using it, so that she had no surprises during the music imaging. (For a discussion of the use of music programs in the GIM experience, see [Bonny, 1978].)

We frequently talked about what might be underneath this struggle with the music, and she saw similarities between it and her experience of binging. It also felt like the dissociative response of someone who had been sexually abused. She loved and trusted the music, so she allowed it to touch her, but sooner or later it would start going its own way and she would lose control over it; once it took power over her, it started to do things that were displeasing, confusing, or painful to her, and by that time it was too late to resist; the only thing left to do was to shut down and tune everything out until it ended.

Diane's struggles show how trust issues relate to boundary issues -- as soon as she lost her boundaries with the music, she could not trust it. On the other hand, she longed for the blissful experiences of relaxing her boundaries and feeling the full nurturance of a safe holding environment. Curiously mixed in between the trust and boundary issue is the need for control.

Control and Power

As we assume more responsibilities for taking care of ourselves, we need increasingly more control or power over our environment. In order to get what we need from our environment, we begin to imitate the ways our parents took care of us and controlled the environment. Essentially, we become our own parents to ourselves, and in the process, seek all of the power (or lack thereof) that we think they have! Clients come to therapy with similar challenges: Who will control whom, and in what ways? Who has more power, and in what areas? In GIM, these questions are related to the therapist, the music, and the imagery.

Consider for example how Jack became his own verbose mother as well as the child who was being nagged. Similarly, Bob became his own critical mother while also playing out the roles of the unaccepted child and the weak husband/father. In controlling the music, Diane became the powerful mother she needed to protect her from the man who was violating her boundaries.

Love and Approval

As we gain independence and begin to meet our own needs, we stand separate from all those who have cared for us, and our needs begin to shift. We begin to seek approval of those we love, and we begin to question whether they love us. Thus our life concerns turn to: Do you love me? Why not? Am I good or bad? Have I done enough to please you?

Case Example: Heather

On her way to therapy, Heather drove through Valley Forge Park and was struck by the beauty of autumn. The leaves were at their most colorful, both on the trees and on the ground. As we began the session, Heather expressed great sadness over this beauty and the loss that it represented. In her own process, she had been in the winter of her life for many years, and longed for spring and the promise of new growth. Autumn was beautiful but very discouraging- yet another cold winter was about to begin. Her feelings about the seasons of her life were as mixed as the colors of autumn leaves.

In the induction, I brought her back to the park to take another look at the leaves and trees, and prepared her for the Death-Rebirth music program. Within the first cut, Heather discovered a large rope coming from her tailbone which tied her to the ground. (Heather had chronic back pain at the tailbone). She then noted that the rope was "holding her back" and preventing her from leaving her roots. Heather had been struggling most of her life with abandonment issues, and there was a part of her who needed to hold onto the child her parents had left behind. She was literally and figuratively holding her own "back" and holding herself "back." Heather also was becoming aware that she had to leave her past (her "roots") behind in order to heal her life.

As the session progressed, Heather actually became one of the trees in the park: the rope had given her roots in the ground, and she too had leaves that were falling from her limbs. A flood of tears suddenly came when she realized that she was different from the other trees. When their leaves fell, they were still alive and growing; but when hers fell, she looked dead -- she stopped growing inside. Quickly, the wind began to rob her and all the other trees of their leaves. She could not understand how all the other trees were alive without their leaves, but that she was dying. At this point in the tape, the male voice entered in Mahler's "Song of the Earth." Heather looked to her left and realized that a wise, old tree was witnessing her struggles and fears. She then asked the tree why she had to die. The tree replied: "Seasons change. If you do not let go of your leaves, new ones cannot come. You have to let go of the past." Heather's back began to open at the tailbone, and a thick liquid began to flow out of it towards the ground. Suddenly she turned into a child laying innocently in the leaves (without a rope attached to her back), crying because she was so defenseless. The tree then comforted her by saying: "It is good that you are a sapling again. You can now learn about how seasons change." As the imagery came to a close, the last leaf on the wise tree fell to the ground. Heather went to catch it, but then changed her mind and complained: "I don't like this one, it's all dried up and withered." The wise tree answered: "Keep it anyway, so that you will know that you do not like it." As the music ended, I was struck with Heather's rejection of the withered leaf after such a sublime encounter.

Heather's transferences were indeed challenging. With all of her family of origin deceased, she had to reconstitute in therapy each significant person in her life, so that she could better understand and feel the bond of love that she shared with each of th em. At one time or another, I became: her mother who loved her but who could not be held back by her; her grandmother who never left her and supported her by loving her and holding up her back; her father who was never there to hold her or to hold her back; and her aunt who loved her but held her back through criticism and demands to get ahead. In this session, I also became an idealized father who spoke to her through the male voice in the Mahler, and who sat on her left, like the tree, guiding her through her struggles with life and death. Interestingly, while she regarded the old man as wise at the beginning, at the end she rejected part of what he offered her. So despite the positive feelings, there was also a negative transference projected towards me. This was to be the leaf of her resistance to therapy for the months that followed, as if she were saying to me, "I don't accept what you are offering me, even if I do think you're wise in offering it to me." Heather had been reluctant to let go of many aspects of herself that were holding her back, yet realized on some level that without letting go, she could not go forward.



Several conditions or elements within the therapy setting help to activate or evoke transference reactions in a client. Perhaps the most obvious is when there are actual similarities between significant others in the client's life and either the therapist, the music, or the imagery. In Diane's case, when the music was stable and supportive, it resembled her mother as they both had the capacity to bring her bliss, nurturance, and love; on the other hand, when the music was seductive and controlling, it resembled her abuser in its ability to violate her boundaries.

Similarities may also exist between past and present situations that a client may find him or herself. That is, events or feelings of significance in the past may seem like they are recurring in the therapy situation. In Tom's case, he seemed to be responding to residual memories of being subliminally polluted, fetally and sexually.


Of course, there are bound to be instances when clients see similarities when there are very little if any at all. Sometimes this kind of distortion happens because the client needs to relive the past, regardless of how relevant the present situation is. Many times, however, these distorted similarities occur when something about the therapist, music or imagery is ambiguous or unknown, and the client feels a need to fill in the blank by projecting qualities from significant others onto them.

There are many such ambiguities and blank screens in the GIM experience: lying with one's eyes closed, leaving the parameters of time and space behind, going into an altered state of consciousness, leaving one's body, creating imaginary experiences that feel quite real, and dialoguing with someone who is invisible but present, and who is outside of the experience yet integral to it. It is no wonder that clients can easily project absent parents onto an unseen guide, unsafe holding environments onto lying vulnerably on the mat, the bliss of symbiotic union with the mother onto characters imagined in an altered state of consciousness, and so forth.

Altered States of Consciousness

Altered states of consciousness provide the condition par excellence for creating ambiguities, and thereby activating a transference. Moreoever, in comparison to ordinary states of consciousness, altered states lead to particularly rich and complex transference dynamics. They do this by loosening the client's defenses and making them less accessible to conscious control.

At the ordinary level of consciousness, clients probably reflect more often and more effectively on how they are relating to the therapist. This ability to be self-reflective, rational, and analytic makes it much easier to both conceal and control any distorted projections or transferences that may arise. Thus, when in ordinary consciousness, clients usually have easier access to their usual and strongest defenses, and especially in relating to the therapist. Of course, this does not mean that transferences that arise at these times do so only at the conscious level; the unconscious is always Operating. Thus, transferences during ordinary consciousness (e.g., during discussions) tend to be more consciously defended, but still manifested and expressed at both conscious and unconscious levels.

In contrast, while in an altered consciousness, clients are busily occupied with the music and imagery as well as the therapist, and as a result, have comparatively fewer opportunities (and far less motivation) to reflect upon how they are relating to the therapist. In addition, just being in an altered state can hamper one's usual abilities to be self-reflective, rational, and analytic. Thus, I have found that in most instances, when clients are imaging to music in an altered state, they are much less aware of themselves in relation to the therapist, and much more prone to expressing a transference towards the therapist without the usual conscious methods of control and defense. At the same time, because the focus of their attention has shifted more towards the music and imagery, they are much more likely to develop and express transferences towards the music and imagery. And because they are not in a reflective mode, they probably have comparatively less awareness of how they are relating to one or the other objects (e.g., the therapist, the music, or the imagery). Thus, we can say that generally speaking, transferences towards music and imagery tend to operate at more of an unconscious level, and are not as easily accessible to conscious controls and defenses. Similarly, transferences towards the therapist during the music and imagery tend to reflect more unconscious feelings; while those arising during the discussion periods tend to be those more accessible to the conscious mind.

Projective Activities

Many aspects of the GIM experience encourage the client to project. In fact, imaging to music is itself a way of projecting; through that process, clients can project by creating symbols and metaphors, accessing myths, regressing to earlier periods or lives, and entering deep regions of the personal and collective unconscious. All of these projective activities serve to loosen and redirect the client's conscious defenses, and ultimately re-create the transference dynamic.

Nondirectiveness of Guide

Another aspect of GIM which contributes greatly to ambiguity and thus transference is the nondirective approach characteristically taken by guides, particularly during the music-imaging experience. Though we might expect that the nondirectiveness of the guide discourages transferences from taking place in GIM, its effects are quite the opposite: as nondirectiveness increases, the client experiences greater ambiguity; as ambiguity increases, the client's experiences more of a need to use projective mechanisms; and as projective activity increases, the client is more likely to create a transference dynamic.

The same holds true for music and imagery -- the less clarity, identity, and differentiation they have, the more the client will need to project onto them, and the more the clients projects, the greater the likelihood of transference. For this reason, it is my belief that GIM therapy creates more opportunities for transference than most other therapeutic methods and approaches.

Threats and Transitions

Therapy is by its very nature a threatening process. By design and effort, it is a time of transition from one way of being to another. Thus, whenever therapy is being the most intense or effective -- that is, whenever the client is perched at the edge of a life change or personal transformation -- is precisely when the client may feel most threatened. And it is at these times of threat and transition, that clients are most apt to relive previous relationships, either as a means of resisting the threat of change or for the nurturance, encouragement, or support needed to make the change. These are times ripe for transferences of all kinds!

Threats that often lead to transferences include: any form of confrontation by the therapist, disturbing or difficult images, the recovery of painful memories, and any release of unconscious material.


So far we have examined the various ways in which the objects, valences, sources and issues of a transference can be configured, and the many conditions which can activate the dynamic. We are now ready to explore specific ways that transferences are manifested in GIM. As one might expect, there are many different ways, and it is impossible to make a definitive and comprehensive list of them. Nevertheless, there are a few signs of transference that are relatively common and reliable.

Evaluative Statements

One of the most obvious signs of transference is when a client makes an evaluative statement about the therapist, music or imagery. This includes any verbalization that expresses how a client perceives or feels: about the therapist as a person or as a professional, about what the therapist has said or done, about events in the therapy situation, about the therapeutic environment, about the music, or about the imagery. In most cases, these statements can be seen as a manifestation of either a positive or negative transference, depending upon whether the client compliments and praises or criticizes and complains.

Need Statements

In a more subtle manifestation, transferences can also be discerned in statements that a client makes about what he or she wants, needs or expects from the therapist, other people or life itself. Sometimes the client names a specific person or thing, but such statements can also be without reference to anyone or anything in particular. For example, once Diane was complaining to me about her current love relationship and said: "I just want someone who can listen to my problems without judging me." Taking a transference perspective, this statement sends several messages: She may have wanted to tell a significant person in the past about her abuse, and was afraid of being blamed for it. She is in a love relationship now with a person who may resemble that person from her past. She may be transferring both persons to me, and thus suspects that I will have the same reaction as they would have. I may have done or said something which makes her relate the three of us. And, she needs reassurance from me that I will listen to her without being judgmental!

Nonverbal Messages

In addition to expressing transferences verbally, clients are constantly giving nonverbal signals as well. Nonverbal transferences are most often manifested through: 1) various forms of body language (e.g., facial expressions, eye contact, posture, movement qualities, and gestures); 2) actual physical interactions with the therapist (e.g., tolerance for closeness, touch, gestures of affection or support, etc.); and 3) expressive behaviors (e.g., tonality and rhythm of voice, crying, pounding, drawing mandalas).

Resistant or Acting-Out Behaviors

Resistant or acting out behaviors can take many shapes and directions. and in most cases, imply a negative transference. Some of the ones I have found most revealing of transferences are as follows:

-- avoiding self-disclosure or painful topics during the prelude or postlude discussion periods;

frequently resisting the relaxation and induction, either by consistently remaining in an alert state of consciousness and merely talking with closed eyes, and/or by a tendency to always reject the starting image;

-- opening one's eyes or moving excessively during the relaxation, induction or imagery experience;

-- remaining silent for long periods or not reporting certain images or experiences during the music;

-- excessive or intense complaining about the music, the tape quality, the guide's voice, the mat, the light, etc..

-- resisting efforts of the guide to return to normal alertness after the imaging has ended.

It is important to say here that, contrary to a popular misconception, transferences are not always a form of resistance, and resistance is not always a sign of transference.

Reactions to Music

As Diane's case clearly shows, whenever a client has intense reactions to the music, either positive or negative, or whenever a client establishes a characteristic reaction pattern to the music, regardless of its mood or style, a transference is probably developing. I have found that talking very openly to the client about his or her way of relating to the music is always very helpful, not only in understanding the transference dynamic but also in selecting music and offering music-related interventions while the client is imaging. Important questions are: What quality or feeling in the music seems to affect you the most? What feelings are aroused by that aspect of the music? The first question usually reveals the quality of a significant other that draws the client into a certain relationship dynamic; and the second reveals how the client usually reacts to that person.

Music transferences are also implied when the client personifies any part of the music, for example, when an instrument or voice becomes identified with a person, or when the music sounds or acts like a person, or when the music is actually doing something to the client that a person typically does. I have also found that a transference may be developing when a client receives messages from the music, either through the lyrics or music itself. Typically, clients will say, "The music (or voice or instrument) is telling me..." Often, the message is actually emanating from a significant person in the client's life that the client has internalized or introjected, or projected onto the therapist.

Music transferences are often intermingled with therapist transferences. The reason is that, in GIM, music and the therapist function like co-therapists: they share roles, some of which are different and some of which are the same. This has a variety of implications for the formation of transferences.

Because of the role overlaps between music and the therapist, the client can often confuse one with the other, or give responsibility to one for the other. For example, when a therapist selects a working tape which presents many challenges to the client, the client may interpret the therapist's choice of music as an attempt to pressure the client to work hard. Or conversely, if the therapist selects a very calming and reassuring tape, the client may interpret this as the therapist's attempt to take care of or nurture the client. In both cases, the client perceives the music and the therapist as one, or as both doing the same thing -- their roles are the same.

In another case, the client reacts differently to the therapist and the music, splitting the two. Jack is a good example, where he reacted positively to the music and to my choice of it, but through his nonstop talking, expressed a negative reaction to me personally.

Imagery and Imaging

Imagery transferences are evident in three main aspects: 1) the qualities given to characters, things, events, symbols, etc; 2) the way the imager responds to these qualities within the image; and 3) the client's general approach to the imaging process. Let me create an example to illustrate all three aspects. Suppose that a client encounters a dragon in his images. The dragon has kind eyes but breathes fire nevertheless; in the image, the client reacts to the dragon by putting on an asbestos suit whenever in the dragon's presence. In the process of imaging, the client has a passing irrelevant image, then returns to the dragon image, passes by the dragon and shows no feelings. I would immediately begin to wonder about whether the client has a significant other who has the same qualities as the dragon, and whether the client has developed a pattern of insulating himself from the dragon and ignoring his own feelings.

Reactions Outside of Session

Clients can have various transference reactions outside of the therapy situation itself, that is, when not actually involved in the GIM session. They can be directed at the therapist, the music, or the imagery.

Transferences towards the therapist often occurring outside of the session include: habitual lateness, frequent cancelling or rescheduling, not paying for sessions, trying to extend the session time, telephone calls between sessions, writing letters, bringing gifts, etc.

Transferences towards the music that may take place outside of the session include: active avoidance of music experienced in the session, sudden dislike for a particular piece or composer, the recurrence of images or feelings upon rehearing music from previous sessions, and the "haunting" melody phenomenon (when a piece of music from a session plays over and over again in one's head).

Transferences towards aspects of the imagery may be occurring when the client re-experiences images from previous sessions during either day or night dreams.


For purposes of this discussion, countertransference is the therapist's entire stance towards the client, including thoughts, feelings, attitudes, opinions, and physical reactions related to the client as well as specific reactions that the therapist may have to the client's transference dynamic. As such, a therapist's countertransference can elicit or fire up a transference reaction in the client, or it may shape how the therapist reacts within the transference dynamic being presented by the client. Thus, it is both an activating condition and an outcome; a method of stimulating the transference and a method of understanding and responding to it.

Returning to the clinical examples, I was keenly aware that Diane came to me because she needed to learn how to trust men, and because of this, I often caught myself overcompensating -- trying to be always very nurturing, empathic, and stable, never unpredictable or seductive. Thus, to a great extent, it was my countertransference that invited her positive transference towards me, which, in turn, necessitated her negative transference towards the music.

On the other hand, Tom's negative transference towards me was probably elicited more by the radio interference than by any countertransference feelings I may have had for him at the time; on the other hand, I certainly developed some definite countertransference feelings as a result of his negative transference. I felt wrongly accused, disappointed by his mistrust of me, and a bit annoyed with what I began to perceive as his paranoid behaviors towards me. In short, my "stance" towards Tom really began to take shape and enter my consciousness after his transference became evident.

If I were to compare the reliability of all the foregoing ways of detecting transferences, I would select countertransference as the most reliable and accurate. The reason is that, transference by its very nature is a "hook" -- the client is unconsciously luring the therapist's unconscious into reliving a significant relationship pattern in the client's life. But clearly, it is never a one-way interaction formulated by just the client; most often it is a dialogue between the unconscious of the client and the unconscious of the therapist. Thus, what the therapist senses, feels, thinks and intuits about the client are usually very good indicators of what the therapist is doing to "counter" the transference.


Before closing, I would like to state some caveats and delimitations for our discussion. First, I do not believe, nor am I suggesting in this article, that everything that takes place within GIM can be labelled or understood as a transference. On the other hand, I am saying that, transferences can and do occur in GIM. I am also saying that it is my own personal opinion that transferences always occur within a psychotherapeutic setting, and that given the many fertile conditions for them to arise in GIM, they occur even more frequently in GIM than in other modalities of psychotherapy.

Second, I would like to clarify that in each example given, I am not saying that the event or interaction is a transference in some absolute sense. Labelling something as a transference reaction is not a truth statement, it is merely a proposition for considering the possibility of seeing it that way. I believe that it is impossible to make truth statements about anything that takes place in therapy, regardless of one's theoretical orientation. As therapists, we can only describe our personal constructions of the realities that we are co-experiencing with clients. This may sound unnecessary to say, but in many circles, transferences are discussed as if they are clinical realities -- true entities in themselves, which are characterized by definite and characteristic structures and dynamics. I do not believe this.

Third, I would like to reiterate that the main purpose of using any clinical construct is to increase our understanding of the client and to better address his or her therapeutic needs. In my own experience, analyzing transferences is helpful most, but not all, of the time. Thus, if as a construct, transference muddies rather than clarifies what is taking place in therapy, then by all means abandon it, and find something else to use as a guide!


Bonny, H.L.[1978]. The Role of Taped Music Programs in the GIM Process: GIM monograph #2. Salina, KS: The Bonny Foundation.

AMI Publications.


By Kenneth E. Bruscia

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