Music Therapy and its Myriad of Applications (Part 2)

  • 05/25/2016
  • JamPlay, LLC
Looking back at Part 1 of this series and utilizing Wikipedia's definition, music therapy can be defined as "an interpersonal process in which the therapist uses music and all of its facets--physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual--to help clients to improve or maintain their health. In some instances, the client's needs are addressed directly through music; in others they are addressed through the relationships that develop between the client and therapist" (Wikipedia

After spending some time in last week's installment looking at a couple of the physical varieties of music therapy that are available to the individual, let's take a closer look at how the emotional elements of music might be developed and used for therapeutic purposes. You might recall that music therapies are often divided into two categories:
1) Active - This type of music therapy can come in various forms including writing music and lyrics, playing instruments (as simply as banging on a percussive instrument to all out rocking out), choral singing, chanting, exercising and stretching to music, voice exercises, rhythmic body movements, group composition and musical interaction, dance, or virtually any form of exercise that employs active involvement with a musical backdrop; participational therapy. Active forms have been seen as highly effective in the treatment of neurological disorders, amongst others.

2) Passive - This type of music therapy can also come in various forms but is more in tune with listening types of exercises, relaxation, imagery exercises set to music; passive therapy. Passive forms of music therapy have been found to be effective in enhancing concentration and memory, reducing stress, bringing down blood pressure and helping individuals cope up with the side-effects associated with of heart problems.
One of the most expressive and active forms of music therapy can come in the form of composition. Humans have been compiling, collating and composing in the form of the written word since early cavemen languidly trod the earth. Ledges and cave walls often took the place of our modern-day paper but the central idea is still the same. Writing lyrics can be a direct and powerful means of expressing emotion especially as it transcends socio-ethnic and economic boundaries and allows the individual a socially acceptable form of articulation. There are a number of types of lyrical expression and each one can serve as a therapeutic outlet to the writer.

Graffiti is one form of written expression that has largely been adopted by adolescents as a means of acting out in opposition to potentially repressive authority figures, or at least those they perceive to be repressive. Simply stated, Graffiti can be defined as defacement of public property utilizing paint or other mediums to express a particular message or mark a territory as that belonging to a certain gang or faction. There is a definite negative connotation to the word "graffiti" perhaps as a function of the fact that the graffiti itself is often to be found in areas that are not designated for art or the written word. Hence, the placement of said graffiti is in itself an act of defiance and an attempt by the writer(s) at "striking back" at the establishment, where consequently the positive value of graffiti is lost in the translation. Graffiti Verite' is one therapeutic program that seeks to provide adolescents with a socially acceptable venue to express themselves. "The project explores the effects of using the medium of graffiti art and culture to give these kids an opportunity to develop their creative expressions in a socially acceptable venue (" Recognizing the power of fame in our culture as well as the importance of having one's "name in lights", Graffiti Verite' (truth) engages adolescents who have had previous tribulations and/or experience with the probational system and allows them the opportunity to express themselves using Graffiti in a predetermined and legitimate location.

In lieu of the fact that traditional spoken therapies have failed with many adolescents, Graffiti therapy allows the youths an opportunity to express themselves and their deep-seated emotions using symbols and metaphors that are central to their culture. A graduate student in the field of Art Therapy as well as a "legitimate" graffiti artist accompany the youths and monitor their activities as well as record information that will be utilized to provide valuable statistical data as to the effectiveness of the program. The final statistics are unavailable as to the long-term efficacy of the program but one of the adolescents by the name of Coda said "to pour your soul onto a wall and be able to step back and see your fears, your hopes, your dreams, your weaknesses, really gives you a deeper understanding of yourself and your own mental state (pg. 7).

Another valuable form of written expression is poetry. Poetry therapy is another form of therapeutic intervention that can be traced back to certain primitive cultures, where poetry or verse was often utilized by Shamans in order to exercise demons from a "possessed" individual. The possessed was also given the opportunity to chant as well, playing his or her part in the overall ceremony and hopefully increasing the effectiveness of the procedure. Dating back to the fourth millennium B.C. ancient Egyptians were known to dissolve papyrus containing the written word in a solution, which was then subsequently ingested by the patient. No one seems to know the outcome of such an oblique course of action but the fundamental idea that words can be healing was obviously being explored from an early age in our culture. It may also be of some interest to the reader that Pennsylvania Hospital, which was the first hospital in the United States, utilized reading and writing as treatments for patients suffering from mental infirmities. The hospital also had its own newspaper entitled "The Illuminator" which published poems written by its patients.

Poetry has been utilized in many different contexts over the years but found its therapeutic niche in the 1960's as group Psychotherapy began to gain popularity and momentum. Many therapists found poetry to be an effective vehicle of expression and allowed their clients a safe mode to voice their personal experiences and emotions. Poetry has been particularly powerful as a means of expression to those who are unable to demonstrate their thoughts and feelings through orthodox means. Hearing impaired individuals, those suffering from extreme trauma, as well as children have all benefited from the use of what Gil Schloss, Ph.D. has coined "psychopoetry." (author of Psychopoetry, 1976). Here are some examples of Poetry Therapy in action:
1) Group Readings - Participants are invited to partake in the activity either in the form of listening, listening and commenting insightfully, reading their own work or all of the above. Group members are reminded that the ultimate goal of the group is not critique or critical observation of other's works (or their own for that matter) but rather an exercise in self-exploration and expression. Looking back at our initial delineation between what is considered either active or passive therapy; group therapy readings can qualify for either. Those who choose to simply listen and absorb the insightful discourses of others might benefit from passive therapy while those who opt to write and participate in a more hands-on fashion would likely be profiting from an active form of therapy. Group readings leave the level of participation to the individual making the activity less-threatening to the meek and reticent.

2) One-on-one - Poetry readings between an individual and his or her therapist can be an extremely powerful and effective way to access deep-seated feelings and emotions that may be difficult for the client to express in any other venue. Because many people are unable to communicate their emotions in a group setting poetry allows them the freedom of expression that "fits" their need for privacy as well as their need to express themselves to someone open and objective. Again, many of these individuals are people who have undergone massive debilitating trauma and are incapable of any other type of communication although other, higher functioning people have certainly benefitted from this variety of therapy.

3) Compose and dispose - This type of poetry therapy can be very helpful when dealing with loss.It is simply composing poetry and then burning it, or disposing of it in some other permanent way. This technique can be very beneficial to those who are dealing with the loss of a significant other either through death or via a rift in a relationship, and can be helpful in dealing with the process of "letting go" which many struggle with.

4) Journaling - Composing, compiling and collating one's poetry and inner-most thoughts can be a highly effective way to express one's emotions, address people who are inaccessible (due to one's unwillingness or inability to communicate with them), and perhaps even track one's personal progress or regress. Many different therapists recommend journaling as a means of catharsis (cleansing) or as a catalyst for further work.
Poetry therapy is not simply the act of writing words but rather an expression of one's innermost thoughts and emotions expressed in verse. To go into the depth that this topic deserves we'll continue this discussion in the next installment.

Mark Lincoln M.A.