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


Media Reviews, Music Therapy

Clinical Research on Depression and Anxiety

A few days ago I shared with you a video of pop star Katy Perry singing with and being accompanied by a young girl with autism.

Today I wanted to share something that appeals also to my analytical side. Don’t want to read the whole abstract? Here’s the upshot — Researchers in Finland found that with 79 participants after three months of treatment, their depressed and anxious patients improved in their symptom management through music therapy. More specifically, “Verbal reflection and improvising on emotions in MT may induce neural reorganization in fronto-temporal areas. Alpha and theta changes in fronto-temporal and temporoparietal areas indicate MT action and treatment effects on cortical activity in depression, suggesting an impact of MT on anxiety reduction.” Here’s a link to the whole she-bang if you are interested.

Here’s my take on this. The fronto-temporal regions are where our everyday thinking and reasoning skills come from; as well as some music and speech skills. Music also taps into a part of the brain that is “older” or develops in us earlier, and connects quickly to our emotion centers. So verbal therapy is great for these fronto-temporal decision making skills and areas of reason, for gaining insights — adding music making to the mix and getting to the deeper levels where emotion is accessed sometimes quickly, is a great pairing for verbal therapies.

I hope you enjoy the scholarly article. As Michelle Shocked said, keep on rockin’. Thanks for visiting.


Making Music, Media Reviews, Music Therapy

Improvising with Feeling

My PianoOne of my favorite clinical improvisation techniques in guiding my clients through music making by breaking down the elements of music, and making subtle changes to get to where we collectively want to go. Different combinations of tempo, dynamics, pitch, texture, melody and harmony create different moods or feelings. Communicating on this non-verbal level is a powerful experience for both my clients and for me as a musician, music therapist, and container for the experience. From this place, we can discuss and explore changes in feeling states.

Several weeks ago I heard a report on a study about how music communicates feeling in other cultures.  Essentially, music that we westerners typically describe as sad, is also perceived the same way in other cultures.  This is fascinating, and speaks to the universality of our experience as listeners. 

Check out this nice post called “Musical Minds” by Steven B. Jackson in Psychology Today for a little more information about culture and musical perception. 

When you or a loved one is struggling with shifting moods, remember that listening to music and actively playing music can be a catalyst for change.  Finding and listening to the music that feels great to you can be a really good place to start.      

Magical Moments, Music Therapy

Mood Booster

Another incredible week of making music with and for people has come to a close.

Today we rewrote the lyrics to Heartbreak Hotel, made famous be Elvis Presley. On our first run through an older gentleman in my group for persons with depression and anxiety broke into song and ROCKED IT OUT! He laughed afterward and said that was the first time he had sung in front of others since his school days. He was so thankful for the chance to explore some in-the-moment joy. I congratulated him on accepting my invitation to sing.

Afterward a staff member let me know the gentleman had entered my group quite grumpy and distressed. He came out with a bounce in his step that shaped the rest of his day. This is HUGE for persons battling depression.

How blessed I am to be the ambassador for change. How very blessed I am to bring music to others.

What do you listen to when you need a boost? Comments are welcome!

Magical Moments, Music Therapy

Drumming and Depression

I recently led a group drumming experience with about 30 adults, most struggling with issues of depression or anxiety.  It was amazing to see the mood shift of the group from when we started to where we ended.  The music directives required the group members to focus their attention on each other, to actively participate in the group, to be involved.  Without everyone, our musical “machine” would clunk rather than flow.  By the end of our time together, the challenges I had presented to the group were accomplished.  We were making music together, many were smiling and encouraging others, and becoming known to each other in a new way.

There are so many times in life that I have been able to pull metaphors of being in an ensemble, ripe with leadership opportunities and supportive relationships, to the success of a group or team.  I am always amazed when I am reminded of this time and time again.  Although we can’t all be soloists or conductors in this life, we have a place, an important part, that which adds to the whole.  Without those extra voices the beauty would be muted.  Even the smallest voice, even the one who may say nothing at all, is a part of the ensemble to both participate, but also to bear witness to our experience, to hear our song.

I love music.  It makes us matter.