A Music Therapy Perspective
“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on”
-Ode to Grecian Urn, John Keats
To explore Music Therapy one must connect to humanity; the how and why music is so integral to who we are as people. Music can heal and music is therapeutic when used in a systematic and methodical manner that is goal-oriented with a trained music therapist. As a Board Certified Music Therapist, CSUN MT faculty and CEO/Founder of Able ARTS Work, I have experienced and am in AWE of the power of music throughout my nearly 40 year career, continuing to learn something new everyday.
Music Therapy can lead to reduction of anxiety, depression due to isolation and other factors and can improve mood. Music connects us to our Spirit. Spirit is derived from many cultures and belief systems of the world. A western definition is derived from the Latin spiritus, meaning “breath, life force, vigor, and animating principle.” It also implies “otherness”. Music unifies us together as a people and connects us to ourselves, the internal self to the external self for balance, health and well-being.
I have learned that because of the deep ties that music has to the human spirit, it’s important to know how to create a healthy music playlist or sound bath for yourself and others. Music has deep associations in the soul and can trigger memories, which may also (unbeknownst to you) trigger trauma. In a recent workshop “Share a Song” that got you through the past year of the pandemic, participants brought songs that resonated with them to bring comfort, make happy, promote positive feelings, etc. These songs were shared and listened to by the group while lyrics were visible to all through Zoom.
The directive was to listen and take a line or word from each song that resonated with you and rearrange them to create your own poem. Through this Therapeutic Music Process, people were mindful of others, listening to each song and why the person chose it. It was a time to build community and universalities within a group of people who didn’t know each other and a connection through this song share process was born. The workshop promoted socialization, mindfulness, introspection and reflection, etc. Able ARTS Work Learn for Life inclusive on-line music therapy and creative arts, provided support through technology to the process. Months later participants continued to send and share their unique poems that were created from what their psyche was resonating with as song unfolded and the outcome was exactly what needed to be heard for each individual. You can view one of the finished poems here.
Being Present for the Human Spirit in Working with Music
It is important to know how to be present in listening to music that might be shared in a class by students of any age. If you request students to bring in and share a song that has significance to them that may, for example, say something about themselves so that others can get to know them through their music, then it’s important to know what they are going to share, listen to it and discern what it might be saying through an analytical ear. Practice being present with the music. The important skill to acquire is being present and practicing mindful listening. Then if you recognize feelings expressed as trauma, you should refer to a mental health professional*, and not probe to re-trigger a traumatic event.
“Songs are ways that human beings explore emotions. They express who we are and how we feel, they bring us closer to others, they keep us company when we are alone. They articulate our beliefs and values. As the years pass, songs bear witness to our lives. They allow us to relive the past, to examine the present, and to voice our dreams for the future. Songs weave tales of our joys and sorrows, they reveal our innermost secrets, and they express our hopes and disappointments, our fears and triumphs. They are our musical diaries, our life stories. They are the sounds of our personal development.”
(Bruscia, Defining Music Therapy, 1998a, p. 9)
Did you know that MUSIC is not a universal language? It’s a cultural specific system of communication. The key to the language of music is to actively listen, or focus on a specific sound or lyric, as in focused listening within a crowded room. Active music listening is a skill that requires three steps: attentiveness to sounds being played, analysis (or the organization of sounds into meaningful components) and interpretation of what the song or music might be communicating. Kenneth E. Bruscia. Case Examples of The Use of Songs in Psychotherapy. 1999.
On the relationship between man and music, Robert Tussler in Music: Catalyst for Healing (p. 37) says: "It is an energy that penetrates not only our ears but also our bodies through the skin, bone structures, and the muscular nervous systems. “He also quotes Victor Zuckekandl from his book Man the Musican (1973): "Man and music are so fundamentally interlaced from the beginning that one cannot exist without the other.’ Tussler (p. 38) then goes on to state a premise of music therapy without really calling it a premise. "If there is another individual or a group present, the music which issues from me works to end our separation and a relationship is formed. The outer and inner elements of our lives are united. The subject and the object are bridged. This happens with every musical event and affects both producer and recipient. Whether I an consciously listening or not, the music enters my Being and something takes place of which I may or may not be aware. This factor is one of the principal phenomena of music, one deserving of our constant attention and study."
On Age and Ability
Music listening for calming agitation can be difficult for some children and adolescents. Be aware of sound sensitivities as some sounds are tolerable and others are not. Music and sounds that are irritating will obviously not be calming. What might be calming to you may not be their musical preference and, thus, you must learn what music preferences they have that they feel are calming. Asking children to share their music will help you identify “their music”. You may even want conduct an assessment of their behaviors and responses to music selections to give you some insights to those preferences. If children have a low tolerance for connecting with people, music listening is a way they can connect in a non-threatening manner. Offering choices in music listening (together) is a passive approach that actually creates a connection between teacher and peers. Adolescents may not want to connect with people but may want to connect with music.
(Doak in Eyre et al, Guidelines for Music Therapy Mental Health, 2013, p178)
So the question is, would you like to participate, experience, learn and take a therapeutic music journey with us? Your soul will thank you. Join us at www.ableartslearnforlife.org
Helen Dolas, M.S., MT-BC, is the Founder and CEO of Able ARTS Work, and a Music Therapy Faculty Member at California State University Northridge. She has over 40 years of experience in the Music Therapy field.
*[If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, there are people ready to help. People at the Trevor Project and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are always ready to talk with you via phone or online chat. If you are not in an emergency situation and are looking for a mental health provider, you can talk to your insurance or look through Psychology Today's provider search]*