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Music is Therapy

Dick Clark said, “Music is the soundtrack to our lives.” I don’t see anything to disagree with in that statement. Think about how music has highlighted poignant interludes in your life such as when you danced at prom, cheered on a sports team to their big win, or cooed a lullaby to a baby. Music helps you brave Los Angeles traffic, or soothes you to sleep. And music can also keep you occupied as you wait for the cable company to answer the phone…whether you like it or not!

Often for people, music has had one other important task; music is there when we are sad. Have you ever been dumped and then played on repeat the Bonnie Rait song, “I Can’t Make You Love Me?” Or perhaps lost a loved one and cried to “Tears In Heaven” by Eric Clapton until you had no more tears to cry? The point is, when we are sad we have music that seems to understand exactly how miserable we feel. Sometimes the music can make us feel better, sometimes it can make us feel worse. Regardless, we have it and music recognizes better than anyone that life can be full of heartbreak, loss, and loneliness.

So what happens then when you feel that Celine Dion knows a thing or two and your heart will INDEED go on? You have decided you are sick of letting the same guys break your heart, tired of being angry your friends ditched you, or just want to feel less anxious about what we can’t control any longer? Well then, we need some new tunes!

Utilizing the theory of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, I work to teach my clients that what we say to ourselves has a direct correlation to how we feel, and thus effects how we act. In this sense, listening to Whitney Houston belt out “Annnnnd I……………….Will always love yooooooou” might be telling you there is no one else out there to love. You might then feel hopeless, depressed, and truly lost. Are you then going to run to the next computer to perk up your online dating profile? Probably not! Albert Ellis, the great mind behind CBT once said, “Accept that along with many good things, bad things exist, change them if you can, and accept what you can’t change. Remember it’s your thoughts that create the way you feel. It’s practically never hopeless. Acceptance is the key.” So let’s modify the playlist, change what the song is telling you, and thus adjust your feelings and ultimately your behavior.

I am going to present to you three songs that I believe have the type of messages you can utilize to help cope with what life brings:

In this song the singer says very plainly, “Things happen, that’s all they ever do.” To me this line is significant in how it brings life’s ups and downs into a simple statement of fact. By saying that “things happen,” you are accepting the present moment as it is. You are allowing the chain of events that brought you here to exist as they are, and in doing so removing residual blame, shame, guilt, and/or anger. By accepting the “things” that occur in your life, you are able to move forward, instead of being stuck in wanting to change something you cannot. In the song there is also a line that says, “You can just ignore it, put it out of mind / But ain’t it funny how the past won’t ever let something lie?” The song is reminding us that we can’t stop our thoughts from happening. By trying to ignore our thoughts, we are refusing to believe in our own truths and feelings. Instead identify your thought as helpful or hurtful, accept that “things happen,” and move forward with purpose.

Cat Power’s Chan Marshall told reporters she wrote this song for her friend’s bullied teenage daughter. In it are the words, “Your world is just beginning… It's up to you to be a superhero / It's up to you to be like nobody.” Reflective of the It Gets Better Project (, this song is a reminder to not just the young but to all of us that what feels so heavy and insurmountable right now has an opportunity to change through time and personal growth. You’ve heard the phrase, “One day at a time”, in itself a wonderful coping statement. Well, Cat Power is reminding you that those days are many and as you go through each one, “You ain’t got nothing but time / And it ain’t got nothing on you.” The power in this song is that it forces you to take yourself out of the direct moment and give you a foundation for personal evolution. It reminds you of the choice you have of staying in the hurt and pain or moving forward, one step at a time, one day at a time.

What do you tell yourself when people make fun of you, say you’re no good, or that you have no future? How about “ Baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake / Shake it off, shake it off.” This song is a power anthem for anyone who has ever felt mistreated by those around them. Taylor sings of other people's opinions but never gives those opinions any weight. She doesn’t say to herself, “Maybe they are right” or “I must not be that great because of what they are saying about me.” Instead she trusts herself to know who she is deep down and believes that to be true. “Haters gonna hate” indeed! You can’t change how others act or what they think. You can try by being a good person, but ultimately it is out of your control what they say to you. Sir Anthony Hopkins once said, “My philosophy is: It's none of my business what people say of me and think of me.” Stop letting others challenge who you believe in yourself to be true. Taylor says “It’s like I got this music / In my mind, saying it’s gonna be alright.” That music she sings of is her changing those automatic negative thought patterns and in doing so, changes her feelings of self-worth.

There are countless other songs that are out there to pick you up, help you think clearly, and show you there is a better way to treat yourself. Christina Aguilera believes “You’re Beautiful,” Katrina & the Waves encourage you to keep “Walking on Sunshine,” and “Don’t Stop Believing” assures Journey. Use the power of music to change what you say to yourself. Yes there is heartbreak, yes there are mean people, and of course times can be rough. But to help what you say to yourself, “Let the Music Do The Talking” (Aerosmith)


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