Music Therapy

Getting un-stuck through music

Upon presenting at the Illinois Psychological Association, a colleague asked me what I thought about hard rock, death metal, and other forms of aggressive music often listened to by the teens in his psychotherapy practice.

This form of expression is just that – self expression. Think about what you want to hear when you are feeling sad or upset. I bet it isn’t the light smooth sounds of the Jackson 5 – or maybe it is. Most people need some time to stay in an emotional state and process it. Maybe take some time to cool down or self soothe.

I recommend my clients use music that matches their mood when feeling moments of unease. It is my sense that this is what is happening with listening to aggressive music. Some will argue they “just like it”, but why? Aren’t our choices in art reflective of something we either need or understand deeply? Are we not relating to another when we consume their art? We are less alone when someone speaks their truth to us through art.

The trick is this. Choose another set of tunes to listen to. Don’t wallow in music of misery and pain and anger. Use it, relate to it, consume it, and then move to the next level of emotional strength. Maybe it’s still aggressive music, but this time in a major key. Ever heard Messiaen’s pipe organ music? It is wild and intense. How about moving from Screamo to Heavy Metal to Ornette Coleman, to ballads from intense bands, for example. Explore the qualities of the music you love, and move the dial from anger to energy, from sadness to calm, from breakups to survival.

What is on your playlist of healthy mood music? Seriously – I’d love to know.

Keep humming.

– Victoria


4 thoughts on “Getting un-stuck through music”

  1. Love it! I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor; Don’t Rain On My Parade – Barbra Streisand (when I was younger, I’d play this over and over and over, sing along to it, as I was getting ready to hit the clubs – I’d burst through the door of the club as if I owned it!); Express Yourself – Madonna (don’t go for second best, baby put your love to the test!); Paparazzi – Lady Gaga (Funny story about the Gaga song – in the video, she returns from rehab-after breaking her back- in a gold body cast with crutches. She emerges from her limo and is barely able to walk – but she pulls up all her strength and proceeds. This was popular when I had hip replacement surgery. I kept seeing myself as Gaga, triumphantly emerging after the surgery to walk and thrive again. During my first PT treatment in the hospital, this song came on in the treatment room and I almost burst into tears. It made me feel so triumphant. Who knew?)

    Music is powerful. The dark stuff does help us process our feelings, I agree. The important part is to transition from difficult feelings on to empowerment. My hope is that the kids learn how to do this and not stay stuck in the negativity of some music.

    Thank you Victoria for triggering this musical memory for me!

  2. Well, I for one would recommend Messiaen’s organ music for any one in any mood. I think music suits a different purpose for a different person. I certainly wallowed in misery from time to time as a teenager, and I found myself wallowing in music that was not necessarily intended to pick me up: The Smiths, Elvis Costello, postpunk, prog, etc. And strangely, my mood would usually improve. I guess misery loves company.

    Stravinsky, in one of his most quoted aphorisms said, “Music is incapable of expressing anything but itself”, the opening salvo of the neo-classical movement of the 1920s. I’m certain he didn’t actually feel this way. Nor do I, and nor does anyone who has ever been remotely moved by beauty of any kind.

    I don’t really have a playlist of healthy mood music but one thing is constant: I’m constantly listening, and to a lot of things.

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