I had to say a sad goodbye at a heart-breaking funeral this week and it reminded me how evocative music is. Bereft family, from Mother down through the ages to young daughter had taken time to choose music which was important to them and as the service unfolded we were reminded of different points in his life with both hymns and contemporary songs.
I often encourage using music in my work. I’m no music therapist but like many of us I enjoy a good “tune” and can join in a chorus with gusto (and often misheard words). I connect with my grand-children by singing nursery rhymes, I camp with Nina Simone and fall about laughing when my husband warbles the theme tunes of our TV programmes. In my therapeutic work, I find music transfers really well to e-counselling. It can be used “in the moment” when working synchronously and also asynchronously when working via email. Between video channels, music channels and music files (MP3s) almost any genre is available to share simply and effectively.
Music is often one of my suggestions when unhelpful and negative thoughts are flooding a client. Thinking about workplace bullying, for example, when just getting to the end of each day is both a trial and an achievement being able to turn on a CD (although streamed music works just as well) and sing along to a rock anthem in the privacy of your car is freeing. I tend to think of CD’s as they are often gifts on special days so there can be an emotional attachment already and the act of singing covers many aspects we encourage in our day to day work as therapists.
- Singing regulates breathing and can help ease anxiety,
- Reciting lyrics leaves no room for rumination and negative thoughts,
- Body tension is reduced,
- These CD’s are often a sound track for a time in life which can be looked back on fondly.
As a sex and relationship therapist my work is filled with relationships under pressure. Clients can share tracks and lyrics with each other which often helps explain sadness, frustration and loneliness in a way that can be more difficult without a tool of expression. There may be memories of travelling to hospital visits with show tunes on the radio to spend time with an ailing parent, child or other, or the restaurant music when told of an ongoing or past affair. Taking time to remember and feel the underlying and unexpressed emotions in that moment can help partner empathy and understanding instead of the more commonly expressed anger which can be met defensively, halting all future conversations.
Attraction or aversion to a piece of music can be used to explore cultural heritage allowing for rich and powerful material. “The Sash My Father Wore” may be a soundtrack to a childhood where adults marched in colourful regalia, celebrated and had an identity. It may also bring forth memories of tension, conflict and not belonging. Similarly, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” beautifully pleads for abolitionists rescue from slavery yet, amongst other associations is celebration at rugby matches, a drinking song with actions and a song to be played at funerals.
The final piece of music played at the saddest of goodbyes brought close family together to hug and weep. It was a private memory shared with friends and loved ones in a public way. Acknowledging loss of memories and the now changed future together. “The Little Drummer Boy”, played in June, will forever be a poignant memory.
Suzie is a Co-Director of Online Training for Counsellors Ltd, a Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist, Supervisor and Tutor. She has a face to face private practice in addition to her online therapeutic work. She holds an executive role with OCTIA Ltd; the annual online conference and is Chair of the Scottish Association of Psychodynamic Counselling.