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Is It Just Me, Or Does This Really Work?

by Kimberly on August 12, 2010 · 3 comments

You may recall that, in addition to this blog here, I also blog at Psychology Today–though not nearly as often! 🙂 This morning I published a story about an experience I had a couple years ago where I was able to use music to calm two boys in an active “fight, flight, or freeze” response. You can read the story here.

Blogging about that experience has gotten me thinking again about something I’ve noticed clinically, but can’t yet describe or explain how it works:

Somehow, music opens up our brain for being able to verbally process emotions and emotionally-charged memories.

I’ve seen it over and over again, mostly in trauma-influenced children who often took months to open up to a trusted therapist or staff member, yet who would start sharing with me within weeks.

(The staff at this treatment center joked that they always knew which days were music therapy days because there would be a significant rise in the number of children who started talking about their trauma–thus, more paperwork for them!)

I’ve noticed this elsewhere, too. I remember facilitating a support group for caregivers. After initial introductions, I sang Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” as part of a lyric analysis experience. When the song ended, one group member tearfully talked about the emotional struggles she had about her sister’s passing the year before and how she was supposed to be the “strong” one in the family and didn’t have anyone to talk to about this. The kicker? It was this woman’s first time in this group.

I don’t know how or why this works, but it is a common occurrence that my music therapy clients seems to open up more readily and easily to me than they might in other situations.

And I don’t think I’m the only one. My music therapy friend Peggy–the same Peggy I mentioned earlier this week–is beginning some co-treatment work with a psychotherapist. Their clients will start the session with Peggy, who will go through several rhythmic-based experiences. Then they head over to the psychotherapist to begin the talk therapy portion of the treatment. The psychotherapist reports that these clients seem to be able to access their feelings and talk about them more readily. Interesting…

So I don’t have any answers in this post–just observations. However, if you’ve experienced something similar (or, better yet, have insight into this), please share it by leaving a comment below.

And just a reminder–you are invited to “attend” the 1st Annual Creative Arts Therapies Teleconference. Listen and learn from a variety of music, art, and dance therapists…from the comfort of your own home! To learn more, click the pretty pink icon below:


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda August 12, 2010 at 2:18 pm

This post is so true! I wanted to share that this happens to me several times each month. I am a music therapist and a violin teacher as well. I can’t count the number of times students have paused between pieces or violin exercises and shared with me something I considered very personal and reflective. These have included children frustrated with something at school, middle school students feeling left out when mom has another baby, children frustrated with divorce/second marriages, and most reflective was a middle school girl losing a very dear family pet and needing counseling because she was identifying with the pet and wished for her own life to end as well. This same student, months later, asked me a very direct question, “Do you think the way I feel sad many times and the fact that I choose to only play songs that are sad/have sad song lyrics has any connection?” Coming from a 5th grader, I was amazed! We’ve been able to discuss this several times since then and also explore many new styles and emotions within music. Music definitely helps us process our emotions!

Julie August 12, 2010 at 5:48 pm

It’s not just you. I wonder about that, too, and have my own favorite stories with kids, including “the kicker”. It’s a great question for some research, possibly including a survey of participant’s emotional state, feelings of safety, motivation to express and sense of cognitive orientation. Let’s throw in a version of the study using an MRI while we’re at it. That would be fascinating, I think.

Roia August 13, 2010 at 8:46 pm

My clinical supervisor has always said “music hits you at the speed of sound,” so I’d say it makes sense to me. My clients don’t use speech, but there is a definite shift in the relationship (for lack of a better description) when I have played a song that is meaningful to a client.
.-= Roia´s last blog ..Expectant waiting =-.

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