Music as a Healing Instrument and Barometer

Can the creative process help us heal?

Posted Oct 07, 2011

At my talk this week with the Texas Association of Addiction Professionals, a counselor from Cornith, TX asked thought-provoking question: "Did you find your tastes in music changed as you went deeper into depression?" My answer was yes. Recently, I had the interesting experience of hearing a particular musician I loved in my depression after several years of disconnection. After two songs, one thought rang clearly in my head: this guy needs an antidepressant.

I always assumed that depressed people connected with depressing art because of a unique soul to soul communication. When I heard this musician for the first time, I felt as though he could read my thoughts. Listening to him made me feel less alone. Considering this, a person's music choice could be a great barometer of his or her emotional state.

I asked the counselor from Cornith if he used music as a form of diagnosis in his practice. He counsels a number of people in the criminal justice system. Often his clients won't talk or don't write, so he listens. "The deeper the bass, the deeper the depression," he said. Does the counselor ask his clients about their music choices? "No," the counselor offered, "I just listen when they drive up in the parking lot."

Singer Helen Darling (

As much as I've read about depression, this nugget of brilliance has never crossed my path. Depressed people are numb. Stewart thinks that pounding bass is a last resort, the last thing they can feel. Stewart's theory got me thinking. Maybe that vibration is more than just one depressed soul reaching out to another. Maybe something is changing electrically and chemically in the brain due to that audio connection. Could the negative path of the brain be reinforced by negative music?

I searched the internet for any studies on this, and could not find anything. So if you know of something, please comment.

On a more positive note (just had to do that!), I've had an incredibly healing experience through music this past year. My friend Brice Beaird wrote "Hold on to Me" inspired by my book Struck by Living. Brice's sister died by suicide about 25 years ago. I think I became a sort of a "sister substitute" for Brice (his sister and I would have been the same age had she lived). Brice told me once that he spoke with his sister on the phone and she seemed fine. The next call he got about her was the call telling him about her death. Our friendship has enabled him to ask some of the questions he was never able to ask his sister.

Through a wonderful collection of coincidences, today I watched the filming for the video version of "Hold on to Me," with Helen Darling. Helen's voice resonates like lusty cabernet at its peak. She's a more melodic Bonnie Rait, if that's possible (I love Bonnie Rait, depressed, not depressed or neutral). On Helen's album "Circus Town" she has a song "It's Not Just Gonna Happen" that I play often. Sort of a woman's version of Rocky dancing at the top of the steps.  Check it out:

Filmaker Randy Peterson

Mental Health America will be doing the video premiere of "Hold on to Me" and a concert with Brice Beaird at the Kessler Theater in Dallas on November 10. Tickets are on sale at:  Kessler is a small theater (300) so we anticipate a sell out. All proceeds benefit Mental Health America of Greater Dallas. If you're in Dallas, please join us. I WILL be there!

Helen Darling

Songwriter Brice Beaird