The Therapist Is In

What I know about therapy.

Music Soothes the Soul

Music can be a salvation and antidote to most psychological challenges

Music is often overlooked as a therapeutic intervention: singing, listening, and creating music of any kind will provide an immediate biological and psychological benefit for everyone. In fact, music can be a salvation and antidote to most psychological challenges: that’s why people sing in the shower and while driving the car, or simply listen to music that’s inspiring and distracting from emotional upset.

Today I learned about the concept of a “break-up tape”, something that is easily created with digital technology. I had never heard the term before but it’s a compilation anyone can make for their I-Pod, Cell Phone, or MP 3 Player of the songs that shout out to them: “Get over it. You’ll be ok. You are ok and you’re not going to let this break-up flatten you."

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been dumped or you are the dumper, ending a relationship that once promised love, companionship, friendship and sex can be terribly debilitating. While grieving is important and psychologically coming to grips with this trauma is vital, sometimes a little "I Will Survive" attitude will help move you along the path to recovery. Even if it’s just temporary, you’ll have a respite from your pain and a reminder of who you were prior to this trauma. Should your ex be an overly self-involved narcissist (and whose ex isn’t?) try singing along with Carly Simon and tell them "You're So Vain" or suggest that they just Hit the Road, Jack.

Positive Psychology News Daily recently featured a piece about “Music and Song: The Sounds of Hope.” They report a number of research findings about the immediate psychological and medical benefits of music: increased happiness, less stress, reduced depression symptoms, greater autonomy, and increased competence, hope, and optimism. Research shows that children who are involved with music programs grow up to have lower rates of addictive behaviors, better academic performance, and greater preparedness for college and the work force.

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While music therapy as a distinct field has been around a long time, it’s only recently that I’ve begun suggesting to patients that they sing their way out of the blues. Theoretically, this intervention would fall under the umbrella of cognitive behavioral therapy. Losing yourself in the right music is an immediate, unconscious and effortless way to reframe your situation. You can swiftly defeat the black and white thinking that’s leading you to catastrophize the magnitude of this break-up or other trauma. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." This concept is the basis of cognitive therapy: to change your feelings, you need only to change the way you're thinking about your situation. Embracing a behavioral change of turning to your break up tape will shift your thinking and you’ll find a way to accept, as Mick Jagger and the Stones did, that You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

Mark Sichel is a psychotherapist in New York City and the author of Healing from Family Rifts.

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