I'm not a music therapist, just a shrink who strums a guitar. The similarities between music and psychotherapy have long intrigued me: both explore mood, expression, emotional catharsis and the balance of art and technique. Each have subfields with zealous disciples. We go to music and/or therapy seeking answers, relief and understanding. Our darkest days and dreams to be better people are the catalyst for many of the best therapy sessions, as well as the best songs ever performed.

A while back I attended an ISTDP workshop. The modality is direct and forceful, they don't mince words and time is of the essence. It reminded me of a punk rock concert: therapist and client, slam-dancing in the psychic space. I wondered if the two might even have similar theoretical underpinnings, and furthermore, if there were correlations between other music genres and therapeutic modalities, what might they be? 

After much deliberation*, here are a dozen music genres and their corresponding theoretical orientations:

Top 40 Pop ~ Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy - Popular music tends to follow a stable, predictable formula that produces results. It may lack in edge and depth but it delivers the goods - that's why it's the Top 40. Same with CBT - popular, effective, formulaic, doesn't go too deep.

Frontmen: D. Meichenbaum, M. Carey, D. Burns, M. Jackson
Supporting Lyric: "I just can't get you out of my head, boy your lovin' is all I think about" - Kylie Minogue
"There is more to the surface than meets the eye" - Aaron Beck

Rock ~ Psychodynamic - According to Freud, our basic instincts drive us toward sex, aggression and death. Rock music plugs these themes into a 100-watt amp cranked to 11. Throw in a shared history of scandal, drugs, groupies and narcissism, and these two are a perfect match.

Frontmen: S. Freud, J. White, R. Greenson, Led Zeppelin
Supporting Lyric: "Daddy didn't give attention to the fact that mommy didn't care" - Pearl Jam
"It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggression." - Freud

Adult Contemporary/Easy Listening ~ Humanistic - Unconditional positive regard, congruence and empathy are the wheels of the humanistic tricycle. What else would you want to experience in your dentist's waiting room?

Frontmen: C. Rogers, M. Bolton, A. Maslow, K. Carpenter
Supporting Lyric: "Up, up and away, in my beautiful balloon!" - 5th Dimension
"The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination." - Carl Rogers

Classical ~ Family Systems - Orchestras rehearse to create a product greater than the sum of its parts. Family therapy has a similar goal in its quest for the mythical "functional family." Also, about 27 minutes into a classical concert or a family therapy session, people may begin losing touch with reality.

Frontmen: V. Satir, W. A. Mozart, M. Bowen, J. S. Bach
Supporting Lyric: "Duh Duh Duh DUM" - Beethoven
"Human experience of identity has two elements; a sense of belonging and a sense of being separate." - S. Minuchen

Techno ~ Neurofeedback - For readers who are either too nerdy or not nerdy enough, techno is a movement in popular music harnessing technology to create powerful, futuristic, eclectic sounds. Neurofeedback is a relatively new modality that utilizes technology to improve upon existing theories and techniques. Who says you have to understand it for it to work?

Frontmen: Prodigy, F. Shapiro, Daft Punk, J. Lubar
Supporting Lyric: "You're unaware/You keep moving/You're unaware/You keep moving" - Crystal Method
"I use Neuroguide for QEEG and both Neuroguide and Eureka for LORETA." - Lubar


Punk ~ ISTDP - Punk uses short, loud, no-frills songs to convey a strong message or emotion and they don't care how you feel about it. ISTDP is known for breaking through defenses and getting to core issues in a single-digit number of sessions, but it's criticized for trying to pick a fight with the client in order to elicit emotion. They're both Intense, Short-Term, Dynamic, and for many, Psychotherapy.

Frontmen: H. Davenloo, W. O. Williams, P. C. Della Selva, I. Pop
Supporting Lyric: "I like taking Tuinal / It keeps me edgy and mean / I'm a teenage schizoid / I'm a teenage dope fiend" - The Ramones
"It is the experience of intense anger against his mother that is most likely to lead to therapeutic effect." - David Malan


Emo ~ Existential - Emo appeals to the kids who are too shy to be punks but still have plenty of anger and anxiety. Fits right in with the school of therapy that derived from the German and Swiss philosophers so mindful of death as humanity's final boundary. Both emo and Existentialism teeter on the boundary of banality and optimism agreeing that life is temporary, just unsure if the appropriate response is whining or acceptance.

Frontmen: V. Frankl, Good Charlotte, I. Yalom, Fall Out Boy
Supporting Lyric:  "As time passes by, regrets for the rest of my life." - A7X
“Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” - Frankl


Gangsta Rap ~ Kleinian - The theories of Melanie Klein revolve around envy, breasts, death and hostility. Need I say more?

Frontmen: M. Klein, T. Shakur, J. Grottstein, Eminem
Supporting Lyric: "Today I didn't even have to use my A.K. I got to say it was a good day." - Ice Cube
"...when in the baby's mind the conflicts between love and hate arise, and the fears of losing the loved one become active, a very important step is made in development." - Klein

Blues ~ Jungian - Carl Jung's work highlights archetypes, symbols and the collective unconscious. In the blues, women are heartbreakers and men are longsuffering (archetypes), rain is sad and trains bring hope (symbolism) and we all look for something down at the crossroads (collective unconscious). When B.B. says: "I've been down hearted baby, ever since the day we met," he's talking about the anima, right?

Frontmen: C. Jung, R. Johnson, J. Campbell, M. Waters
Supporting Lyric: "I went down to the crossroads, tried to flag a ride. Nobody seemed to know me, everybody passed me by." - Eric Clapton
"The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it." - Carl Jung

Contemporary Christian Music ~ Mindfulness - Critics slam CCM for rehashing pop music from five years ago and adding a religious spin. Mindfulness has been described as old CBT techniques reloaded with spirituality. Funny thing is: fans of either won't like this comparison.

Frontmen: J. Kabat-Zinn, Hillsong, T. N. Hanh, A. L. Grant
Supporting Lyric: "Looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world" - M. W. Smith
"Love is a state of Being. Your love is not outside; it is deep within you. You can never lose it, and it cannot leave you." - E. Tolle


Opera ~ Lacanian - Both are nearly impossible to understand, they speak to a particular crowd and are not for everyone. The true believers are fanatics. Lacan has been called the Freudian's Freud. Opera appeals only to the most devoted audiophiles. Both require subtitles.

Frontmen: J. Lacan, R. Wagner, J.A. Miller, R. Strauss
Supporting Lyric: "For the signifier is a unit in its very uniqueness, being by nature symbol only of an absence." - Lacan
"L'amour est un oiseau rebelled Que nul ne peut apprivoiser" - Bizet


Country ~ Narrative Therapy - The narrative approach states the personal story is at the core of the development of self. Country music has always been about the story - heaven knows it's not about the music.

Frontmen: J. S. Bruner, D. Parton, T. Sarbin, H. Williams, Jr
Supporting Lyric: "Is this work better defined as a world-view? Perhaps it's an epistemology, a philosophy, a personal commitment, a politics, an ethics, a practice, a life, and so on." Michael White
"I've got friends in low places where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away and I'll be okay" - Garth Brooks

Shuffle mode on your iPod ~ Eclectic


* Disclaimer: No science here, just having fun. I'm not suggesting fans of a particular musical genre should seek out the corresponding therapeutic modality - or vice versa. I know of no research to support this idea (but I wish I could have chosen it for my dissertation topic). Feel free to disagree or contribute your own ideas.



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