One problem with therapy—be it psychological or physical, for mental illness or substance abuse—is that it involves a lot of repetition, so keeping focus and attention can be a problem for some clients. Boredom often results, leading to resistance to and the feeling that therapy sessions are something unpleasant that need to be avoided.
That’s one reason behind the adoption of songwriting therapy and other alternative therapies by holistic rehab centers. Clients are more willing to participate wholeheartedly and stick with a program of therapy when it is fun, enjoyable, and doesn’t feel like therapy.
Music is an enjoyable and relaxing pursuit, so the level of engagement with music therapy in general and songwriting therapy, in particular, is high. Songwriting therapy has proven helpful to many clients suffering from mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders which often co-occur with substance abuse.
Even clients who initially express doubts about their abilities to write a song get into the program and eventually produce their own lyrics. (The songs need not be completely original. Using the tune or structure of an existing song, such as with a song parody, works as well.) The result is that their mental health improves and they find they now possess a talent that they enjoy.
How Songwriting Therapy Works
In songwriting therapy, a therapist leads the clients through songwriting activity by giving them a prompt, a word or phrase or concept, usually something to do with the issues they are experiencing. For example, prompts might be “anxiety”, “feeling blue”, or a specific stressful situation. The exact requirements are stated and understood before the clients begin the exercise.
Some music therapy programs might provide a variety of musical instruments for accompaniment. This helps make the therapy more enjoyable and not seem like therapy. Clients are more relaxed and willing to play according to the rules and engage completely.
To ensure more freedom and creativity, holistic rehab centers place as few restrictions as possible on the client’s song ideas. They can perform their song as spoken word, dance, song, or any way they want to express themselves. The exercise releases stress and encourages communication and free expression while allowing participants to view the therapy as play or enjoyment.
At the same time, by providing the prompts and setting the requirements for the songwriting, the holistic rehab centers keep the exercise in the realm of therapy.
Songwriting Therapy Results
The purpose of songwriting therapy isn’t to write a hit song; it is therapy. Clients can express themselves freely and passionately through lyrics without restriction. Whether songwriting is used during individual or group therapy, it is a beneficial form of treatment. It makes it easier for clients to express feelings that cause them discomfort.
There is no fear or disapproval or shame in songwriting therapy. Everyone is working and sharing their emotions through a lyrical outlet, as opposed to sharing their deepest emotions solo in front of the group. Even the clients who may have acted like outsiders in the group experience can join in and experience solid relationship building with other members.
In fact, once the members begin writing their songs together, a beautiful thing happens: they realize there are similarities in their experiences and the emotions they experience during their recovery. This allows them to open up in a way that doesn’t make them feel vulnerable.
Some clients are surprised to find that it’s easier to share their feelings in songs than in plain speech. Listening to and hearing the feelings of fellow members in lyrics increases clients’ empathy and allows them to feel and show more respect for others.
The ability to express themselves freely through songwriting opens up wellsprings of creativity and enables clients to feel good about themselves and are more willing to put in extra effort to improve the skill.
Some Songwriting Therapy Benefits
Songwriting therapy is relaxing and enjoyable, takes clients outside of their comfort zone, and helps knock down barriers to communication, but there are additional benefits from songwriting therapy for clients with mental illnesses.
Songwriting therapy allows clients to process and express their feelings in a positive and cathartic way. It’s easier to share difficult and painful topics such as abuse and trauma through song lyrics than simply speaking them.
The results of a 2013 study conducted in Denmark on the effects of songwriting therapy on a child who suffered trauma indicates this therapy can profoundly affect trauma. It helped the child to verbalize previously undisclosed traumatic experiences “without showing any symptom of anxiety”.
Anxiety and Depression
Music, as the quotation goes, “has charms to soothe a savage breast”, and modern research confirms it. Research conducted in 2005 at Florida State University on the effects of songwriting therapy concluded there were slight improvements in anxiety levels among clients participating in songwriting therapy as opposed to clients who did not.
Music also can have an elevating effect on depression. A 2011 study done on the effects of group songwriting therapy on clients with depression found songwriting therapy increased their quality of life and reduced their depression.
Confidence and Self-esteem
There’s a sense of accomplishment and power in knowing how to do something, from tying your shoelaces to tuning-up a car. Knowing that they can write songs improves the clients’ confidence and self-worth. The process of creating or notating lyrics helps restore the normal development of the clients by addressing various psychosocial needs.
In addition, research conducted in 2012 at the University of Kansas on homeless teenagers concluded their coping skills and self-esteem were improved by songwriting therapy and lyrical analysis.
Sometimes people who are going through addiction and mental health issues find it difficult to open up and communicate freely about their feelings and background. Traditional group therapy may not be as successful for clients who have difficulty expressing feelings that cause them to feel shame or fear.
At holistic rehab centers using songwriting therapy, clients are offered the opportunity to open up about their struggles with addiction and past trauma through their lyrics.
Songwriting therapy is a good way to enable clients to find their inner voice and begin expressing the often painful emotions they are dealing with internally. Clients find even the toughest emotions like shame and pain are easier to express through music.
Once they can share their inner feelings, clients stand to gain more understanding and respect for themselves and their journey.
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer, mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. I attempt to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. Patrick Bailey – Professional Writer