Music Therapy and its Myriad of Applications (Part 3)

  • 07/31/2016
  • JamPlay, LLC
Looking back at Parts 1 and 2 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 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.
We left off in our last installment discussing the power of expression and the subsequent therapeutic value of poetry therapy to the individual searching for truth. We briefly covered some general applications of poetry therapy like group work, one-on-one readings and journaling but the specifics of the medium need to be deconstructed more thoroughly. Indeed there are specific types of poetry that can be particularly meaningful to a person seeking a cathartic form of expression, Haiku is one of them.

Haiku is a small poem that has no overt rhyme scheme (some rhyme schemes are not visible to the casual observer), and contains 17 syllables arranged in three lines containing five, seven and five syllables per line. This type of poem is often a summarization or recount of a particularly poignant or meaningful moment or experience in someone’s life expressed concisely and articulately in poem form. Here is an example of a Haiku written by a mother witnessing the re-union of her young child and her great grandmother:
   3-month old great granddaughter
exchange toothless smiles
  (“West meets East: Processes and Outcomes of Psychotherapy and Haiku/Senryu Poetry” by Robert H. Deluty, Journal of Poetry Therapy, Vol. 15, 4, Summer 2002).

As you can see, the poem is arranged in the atypical Haiku form with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second and five in the third but what does this cryptic poem express? From this reader’s perspective, I see a young mother’s examination of the timeless circle of life and the interplay between young and old. I see the silent beauty and meaningful expression between a child and her great-grandparent as well as the physical similarities that both young and old manifest in their appearance.

But what is it about this particular poem that might be construed as therapeutic to the writer you might be asking? Well, like yourselves I am merely a casual observer, an admirer if you will, and can hence only posit my subjective notions about the potential therapeutic value of this Haiku. I might go out on a limb and suggest that the writer is an individual who is examining her own mortality in relationship to her aging grandparent and the poem is simply one way for her to express her sadness and fear of her own demise. The Haiku could also be an expression of her bittersweet joy at having been witness to such a beautiful moment of connection between her daughter and her grandmother, a moment that may be ephemeral, fleeting and gone forever. Inevitably, the ultimate value and meaning of composition is determined by the composer and can only be fully understood and appreciated by the individual. Haiku is simply one form of expression that allows the writer to express emotion in a form which is suitable and safe, and at the same time representative of the individual’s creative self. Because speaking one’s personal truth, expressing issues and emotions that are important and pressing to oneself can be therapeutic, Haiku and other forms of poetry can become therapeutic as well.

John Fox is a man known for his work utilizing poetry in therapy, and makes use of some interesting tools which can help attach words to emotions. Many struggle to unearth words that are the appropriate and accurate estimation of their emotions and feelings. This exercise can be an excellent tool in discovering those ever-evasive words but can also be a great aid to the aspiring songwriter when searching for the “right” lyrics as well. This exercise is called …

Words That Cry Out
 Make a list of strong and vibrant words, words that leave the roots and dirt on.  Choose words that interest you, that have an impact, that reveal something about you and your state of mind, problem or hurt right now.  Choose words that are related to the body, to nature and your emotions.  Pay attention to how the sound of a word communicates the feeling of the word.  You can even make up words that fit for you, like “terrorwide”.

         Here are some examples of vibrant words:  restless, jagged, wreckage, ruthless, abandon, frighten, turbulent, bruised, caress, fertile, pungent, empty, moist, ache, rotting, stormy, scream, rage, shatter, odor, exhausted, thorny, cavernous, molten.  

(Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making and Finding What You Didn’t Lose: Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making by John Fox.)

After locating some “Words that Cry Out” to you there are a number of ways to express those words in poetic form. Perspective is a matter of consideration in this issue as the position you take within the confines of the poem will dictate a great many things. For example, a writer using first person perspective will generally use “I” when referring to him or herself or the word “we” when utilizing the plural form. This is a very personal manner of expression as you are sharing your thoughts and feelings directly with your reader/listener as well as exposing your vulnerabilities as well.

Here’s an example of writing in first person perspective in Suzanne Vega’s Small Blue Thing:

Today I am a Small Blue Thing like a marble or an eye
With my knees against my mouth I am perfectly round, I am watching you
I am cold against your skin you are perfectly reflected I am lost inside
your pocket I am lost against your fingers I am falling down the
stairs I am skipping on the sidewalk I am thrown against the sky
I am raining down in pieces, I am scattering like light
(from Suzanne Vega, 1985. A and M Records)

As you can see, Suzanne is expressing herself as if she were the “Small Blue Thing” in relationship to her captor, as it were. Her choice of words including “small” and “thing” may allude to the fact that she feels meaningless, or diminutive in relation to the person she repeatedly refers to as “you” in the verse. She also uses the word “lost” repeatedly throughout the work which may represent her feelings of inadequacy in relation to the other figure. The first-person perspective allows her the freedom to speak fluidly and is if she were expressing herself directly to her listeners in a stream-of-consciousness manner as well as express deep-seated feelings towards the other.

This piece also utilizes second-person perspective as well which is evident in Vega’s use of the words “you” and “yours” throughout the piece. Second-person is often used in poetry and verse as a form of person-to-person expression which is a direct and personal message from one to another. In a sense, we are invited to share the experiences and emotions between these two people and as a result, are allowed a glimpse into their private world.

But many are uncomfortable with this level of shared emotion and the use of third-person perspective can be much more private and accommodating for those who wish to create a little more distance between themselves and their emotions. Third-person uses pronouns such as “he, she, it, they” but never “I or we.” This mode allows the speaker to detach themselves from events that are perhaps best left behind, while still addressing the issues that plague them. As mentioned previously in this series, many who have undergone trauma are either unwilling or unable to express emotions or relive details related to the trauma. Oftentimes, just the act of remembrance can re-traumatize the individual which can set them back in their therapeutic progress as well as their ability to function from day-to-day. Third-person perspective can create space between the survivor and the trauma by allowing them to re-examine their feelings, memories, experiences from a distance. Here is a poem by an assault survivor by the name of Kim Barry and written in the third-person:
No sleep for the girl, the one who is scared
She hides behind her smile, runs from her fears
Her appearance masks her insecurities and masks her worries
Everyone knows her but do they really see her cry at night
feel her pain
her own disdain
for herself
Her inner cry for help is fading as are her hopes, dreams, and aspirations
Help the girl with no outward qualms, rescue her from her own despair.
No sleep for the girl.
Kim Barry
Using the third person perspective allows the writer to step back and view her weary world, her past experiences, her nightmares from a safer vantage point and one where she might gain some perspective and some solace.

Composing poetry is an active form of therapeutic expression that can benefit both men and woman whether they have suffered from severe trauma or not. Most people experience difficulties and tribulations in their lives often due to the fact that they don’t feel they have a “voice” or are respected, recognized in this faceless overpopulated and often calloused world. Poetry gives the individual a resounding voice that allows them a powerful form of expression that is both compelling and eloquent at the same time. To be continued…………………………………….
Mark Lincoln M.A.