Sunday, January 26, 2014

January 26, 2014… Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy Month


As we close the first month of the year, my music therapy community concludes a month-long drive to spread awareness through social media channels.  I don't talk too much about music therapy on here, but I would be remiss if I didn't continue to share what lights me up about music therapy.

I am currently working in a teen recovery center that has a boys home, a girls home, and an intensive outpatient school for kids transitioning back into life after a stay at one of the homes.  Where does music therapy fit in with addiction recovery?  Well, first, let's get straight about what addiction is.  It's a neurological disease the features a breakdown in the reward system in the brain.  Often triggered through a combination of genetic predisposition and trauma, addiction is a conundrum because 1) there is no simple test to differentiate an abuser from an addict, 2) and the recovery is patient-generated.  It still lives in our culture under a veil of morality i.e. people who fall to addiction may be judged as having 'poor moral fiber.'  This is relevant, because the shame that addicts often feel hinders their ability to seek treatment to get healthy.

Before treatment, whatever the drug or behavior of choice may be becomes the default response for how to deal with the feelings associated with life, and the cravings associated with addiction.  Remember the TV show "Family Feud?" Remember "The Number One Answer?"  That's how the brain responds.  Happy?  Use.  Sad?  Use.  Lonely?  Use.  Angry?  Use.  Bored?  Use… and so on.

In treatment, the patient has to deal with the fact that their "number one answer"… their 'binky' is no longer an option for coping with life on life's terms.  This leaves a GIGANTIC black hole of coping.  Like a vacuum.  How does one fill that hole?  With new tools, and music just happens to be a pretty awesome tool in this case…

… and that's where I come in.

Can you imagine 6 teenage boys sitting in a circle trying to articulate their feelings?

Neither can I.      (ha!)

Seriously.  Think about your feelings.  They are emotions in action… e-motion… energy in motion… swirling around the mind and body.  Do they have words?  Not exactly… not until we try to MAP a word or phrase over them to try to match.  What if you don't have a word to describe how or what you are feeling?  Are you still feeling?  HECK YES, right?  Imagine those teenage boys' feelings trying to 'get out'… be expressed, but they are trapped inside because they boy lacks a word to map over it… so it remains stuck inside… festering.

Language is like a toll-booth for emotional expression.  It's as if the emotion must pass through the toll booth of language before it is allowed to exit the body.

Well, I say FORGET all that.

Hit a drum instead.

My mantra is, "If you can't say it, PLAY IT."

You should SEE the boys play their drums… and just because girls seem to have a better knack for articulating, don't think they don't lay into 'em either.  Just giving them ALL a NEW AVENUE for their swirling emotions and feelings to travel down and out of their minds and bodies… it is so cathartic!

One boy told me recently, "Sometimes I don't even KNOW what I'm feeling UNTIL I hit a drum.  Then, I listen to how I am playing and realize, 'hey, I'm really angry right now… listen to how hard I'm playing!'"  That was from a 15 yr old boy with a history of anger management issues.  It is SO GREAT to watch these young men and women who are pretty much learning how to emotionally regulate all over again utilize this tool so eagerly.  Because pretty much every kid coming into treatment already has a prior, personal, and powerful relationship to music… I don't have to introduce them to anything 'new.'  They may not know me, but they know - and MUCH more importantly - TRUST - music.

Music is such a wonderful tool.  You can use it in so many different ways from preemies to those in hospice and everywhere in between.  Our field is still extremely small, but as we continue to see good solid research validating why music works so powerfully on the brain, I feel that music therapy is poised to takes its rightful place in the allied health landscape that includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech/language therapy.  My 30 year vision is that when I'm 71, music therapy will be spoken of with the same level of understanding as physical therapy.  My hope is that this tipping point occurs much sooner than that, but I EXPECT it to have already occurred before I see 72!

Have you witnessed music therapy in action before?  Where?  Please Comment!

God night.


  1. My daughter is a music therapist----she works in a school for children with special needs, mostly autistic kids or those with other communication difficulties.
    Music therapy is actually how I came across you in the first place, although I quickly was drawn in to Bella's story as I'm a pediatric nurse and had encountered a young child with EB back in 1985. She stuck in my memory because we knew so little to do to help her and she was a delightful individual.

  2. I am actually preparing for an audition to a bachelor of music therapy program at a local university near me. I know it works...both in my life personally, in the students I teach, and in my family. Three years ago, my mom died of cancer, and in the last month, she was in the hospital. Music kept me alive in there, and definitely had relaxing properties for her. We were always a musical family (my parents met singing in a choir together)

  3. Tim WHERE ARE YOU? Please don't give up on sharing all that wisdom that God has given you to give to US. Missing you, please come back!!!!

  4. Hi Ringgold family! I just read this today and thought of you, Tim:

    I'm not sure if you've already seen it, but it made me think of you and all of the joy/healing you bring to people through your music therapy. I hope life is well - thinking of you and Bella today!

  5. Haven't heard from you in so long.Hope all is ok with you and your beautiful family.