How Music Therapy Can Give Patients A Voice in Recovery
by Michael Rass
Music can have a powerful influence on emotions and mood, but it can also allow people to communicate their moods. While it can be difficult to explain your mood in words, music can do so perfectly. This makes it a valuable tool in recovery. Music therapy has been shown to help people deal with a number of conditions, and evidence suggests that it will also help patients in recovery from addiction.
At Lakeview Health, weekly group classes are facilitated by board-certified music therapist Brittney Harmon. Not everyone understands music therapy right away. “Sometimes there are reservations at first,” says Harmon. “People say they don’t see the point of music therapy and think they should focus on their primary group therapy instead.”
This opinion quickly evaporates once they actually have a music therapy session. “At the end, they usually say they didn’t realize music could be used to deal with their issues,” says Harmon.
Participants don’t have to be able to play an instrument, and a wide range of music can be used. “The group decides what kind of music; music therapy is definitely based on patient preferences,” explains Harmon. “That way, they will be more open to listening and less reserved since it is music they chose. Lately, we have had a lot of heavy metal.”
That might not be everyone’s sound, but listening to the lyrics and talking about them are key. Recently, Harmon discussed Jamey Johnson’s “High Cost of Living” with the group, a country music tune that was not exactly everyone’s sound, either.
The topic of the song, however, is the cost of addiction, and lyrics suggesting that the high cost of living is nothing compared to the cost of “living high” are an excellent starting point for a discussion about addiction.
After listening to the song, Harmon invited people in the group to talk about the “cost of living high,” and how much it had cost them personally. A lot of people said they could relate to the song, even if they didn’t exactly like the music.
One of Harmon’s favorites is the classic “Lean On Me.” In fact, she likes to refer to Bill Withers as her other Bill W.
“The song is a great example of how music can bring people together. Everybody knows this song,” she says. “I just start saying the words, and by the end we’re all singing it together.”
Often, those words relate to a specific situation where a patient had to lean on a friend for help through a really rough time. Harmon then prompts them to think about who they can call on in their recovery.
Sometimes people can relate to the music because the artist is in recovery, too, or has struggled with addiction problems. Harmon frequently talks with patients about the environment in which musicians live and the challenges it presents. Some of the patients at Lakeview Health are professional musicians, and they are all too familiar with the music scene where drugs and alcohol are readily available. Sometimes, drugs are even seen as something that can enhance an artist’s creativity.
Many examples of substance use tragedies exist in the music business. Former Stone Temple Pilots frontman, Scott Weiland, who died on tour in December after a long battle against drug addiction, is just one of many.
It’s important to bring out these issues during rehab because patients might be confronted by that kind of environment again and will have to handle it in order to avoid relapse, even if they are just going to a show.
Instead of being a relapse trigger, music can become a recovery anchor. As one participant of the music therapy program at Lakeview puts it, “Music is now one of my coping skills.”