The Music of Paradox:
Harmonizing Shadow and Light

Sierra Stearns, Ph.D., MT-BC, FAMI


Photograph by: Raymond Gehman,

Teresa Oster MSW, MS, CJSSF board member

CJSSF: What is a music psychotherapist and how do you practice?

SIERRA STEARNS: A music psychotherapist has degrees in music therapy, which combines psychology and music and becomes board certified in order to practice. I use music to accomplish therapeutic aims, and consider music as my “co-therapist” or my medicine. Music is a nonverbal language which touches the emotions and taps into a person’s intuition and inner wisdom. A music psychotherapist can work with many ages and populations, in clinics or private practice and may use recorded or live music.


CJSSF: Is classical music more suited to your depth psychology work? How about lyrics?

SIERRA STEARNS: Yes, mostly – but not always. My primary selection of music is if it is an inspired performance and is appropriate to my goals. Sometimes if lyrics have an important message or helps someone express something they want to talk about, lyrics can be helpful. Often with classical music, another language is better, so it is the voice that is important, not so much the lyrics.


CJSSF: Is it easier to inspire healing with instrumental music? 

SIERRA STEARNS: I would say, often – yes – but not always. For instance, a favorite hymn requested by a person in hospice would be most appropriate.


CJSSF: You practice the Bonny Method developed by violinist Helen Bonny, who worked in the 70s with a federal government program using music as a healing method for experiments with LSD. She saw that the music could heal without the drug and left the program to develop “The Method”. What is “The Method”?

SIERRA STEARNS: The Bonny method is akin to an awake dream, or in Jungian terms active imagination with music. One definition of the Bonny Method is: A depth experience in which specifically programmed classical music is used to generate a dynamic unfolding of inner experience. It is holistic, humanistic and transpersonal, allowing for the emergence of all aspects of human experience: psychological, emotional, physical, social, spiritual, and the collective unconscious. (Goldberg 1995).


CJSSF: You recommend Robert Johnson’s pithy little book, Owning Your Own Shadow, as preparation for your workshop. Johnson says: “healing proceeds from that overlap of what we call good and evil, light and dark… the place where the light and dark begin to touch is where miracles arise.” Why does the paradox, the place where the opposites combine, heal us, and how can music help?

SIERRA STEARNS: Because according to Johnson, paradox is not two contradictions as some might think, but…it is a holding of the tension of two polarities. When these polarities can be held together equally…something special happens, which Jung called “the third” – or the transcendent energy which offers a new revelation or insight. A problem is resolved or new possibility arise. Certain music, through its special language beyond words and thoughts, can mirror this holding of polarities, thereby assisting the individual to begin to resolve an inner dilemma within themselves. In this way, the music partners with the psyche to bring resolution and healing.


CJSSF: How does making mandalas enhance healing?  

SIERRA STEARNS: The mandala is a circle, which represents wholeness. Creating a mandala, invites the use of spontaneous color and form to express many things including feelings which cannot be put into words. Drawing mandalas is often used with the Bonny Method as a processing technique after a music session.


CJSSF: Johnson also writes of the mandorla, opposing ovals or circles that overlap. The overlap is symbolic of paradox, where the opposites are made whole and transcendence can happen. Do you also use the mandorla in your work?

SIERRA STEARNS: The mandorla is a symbol, like the yin yang symbol and is meant to convey a concept or truth. I don’t use it other than to symbolically describe what the idea of paradox might represent. You see the mandorla in sacred art of many cultures, so it it universal.


CJSSF: Lastly, are you a musician yourself? What is your personal experience with music?

SIERRA STEARNS: As a music therapist, I have an undergraduate degree in music with a piano and voice major. However, today I mostly play my Bose system with clients or ipod and speakers when teaching. I choose music as my medicine – knowing which music is the best remedy for the issue at hand. And, I enjoy teaching others how to relate to music and understand its healing power, that they might become Bonny Method clinicians as well. I am a co-founder and director of the Atlantis Institute for Consciousness and Music, an international training school of the Bonny Method where we offer career level training for those who want to specialize and practice this method.

Sierra Stearns, Ph.D., MT-BC, FAMI, received her Ph.D. from Walden University of Miami, FL, in Social Change with a concentration in Synergistic Studies in 1985. She is a Board Certified Music Psychotherapist who has been in private practice for 30+ years. She is a specialist in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) and a Fellow of the Association for Music and Imagery. Sierra is the Co-Founder/Director of Atlantis Institute for Consciousness and Music, a graduate level certification program for professional clinicians. Dr. Stearns has served as faculty at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich since 2009, offering seminars on the use of music in Jungian analytical practice. Her article, “Harmonizing Shadow and Light: The Music of Paradox,” was published in the 2014 AMI Journal. She currently is working on a chapter for the book The Bonny Method and Beyond, Vol. II entitled “A Jungian Orientation to the Bonny Method.”


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Center for Jungian Studies
c/o Richard Chappell
20533 Biscayne Blvd Ste 104
Aventura, FL 33180-1529

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As a Not-For-Profit organization we exist because of the generosity of our friends, volunteers and donors. None of the work that we do would be possible without you.