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When is music therapy akin to swimming in quicksand?

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HereSince1628 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon May-16-11 10:26 AM
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When is music therapy akin to swimming in quicksand?
Proposed Answer: When you are using it to escape a depressive episode.

Disclaimer: This isnt advice. Its a personal reflection on music therapy and the way it seems to work by a person who suffers recurring episodes of depression and uses music for temporary relief.

One of the counter-intuitive survival lessons available on cable television is that when you get caught in quicksand youve got to shift from standing and trying to walk to intentionally getting fully spread eagled on the muck itself. I say counter-intuitive because rather than standing and struggling which only tends to sink your legs deeper in the quagmire, youve got to do something that looks a lot like giving up. You've got to get much of your body covered in the mud. Youve literally got to lay in the muck and get immersed in enough of it to find some buoyancy, so that you can swim, crawl, or drag yourself to something solid which will allow you to pull yourself to safety.

Anyone who suffers from depressive episodes can tell you how much depression metaphorically feels like being trapped, indeed well and deeply stuck, in the mud and mire of life. Curiously, one approach to escaping these emotional sinks--music therapy--uses an approach that extends the quicksand analogy into a useful anti-depression technique.

Humans are generally sensitive and responsive to music. We recognize the mood of a piece of music, and we recognize when our personal mood resonates with the mood of the music. Music therapists refer to the later self-resonance with musical mood as the ISO-principle. Its the starting point for music therapy, for a person in the distress of depression finding it is the emotional equivalent of laying down in the mud. Yes, even wallowing in it. The sense of sinking isolation of depression is forestalled by being in touch with the music from outside of ourselves. We float on our depression with companionship knowing that somehow our feeling is shared with others. At one time or another many of us did this as teenagers.

That seems like a bad idea doesnt it? Giving into the bleakness like a heart-sick adolescent would seem like it might be the last encouragement anyone one would get for escaping depression. But, what finding the ISO does do is put you in touch with your emotions through a nonverbal resonance with the mood of the music. Being in touch with emotions provides some security. Moreover, knowing ones emotional coordinates, if you will, can be the key to being able to find your way out of the swamp. If nothing else it at least locates the starting place for the escape.

Just like lying down in quicksand isnt actually finding solid ground, being depressed and knowing it doesnt transport you out of midst of a depressive episode. The point to recognizing you are in quicksand is knowing that something can be done about it, whether it be swimming, crawling or somehow getting thrown a rope. Once the ISO is found there are courses of action that can be followed to help free oneself from depression.

One can listen to a slightly different piece that engages our emotions and moves you toward emotionally higher ground. Or as people have done for generations without the aid of a therapist, a person can sing, or hum, or strum about their blues. Alternatively, listening to music while employing guided imagery, either by imagining more self-affirming and pleasant circumstances or by viewing photos can transport a person away from their troubles.

Shifting the music to which you are listening to more positive moods works because many, if not most, of us are inherently sensitive to the moods of music. As our conscious experience of the music proceeds our mood shifts toward our unconscious interpretation of it. We can exploit this, and in a metaphorical sense create a walking stick to help us when we get mired in depression In anticipation of our need we can assemble a go-list or other play-list on an mp3 player using a series of music files which our personal experience has shown we resonate with when depressed--yet a list that also incrementally moves us toward toward a better mood. In general, the music used in the contravention of depression must not require too great an emotional stretch or moving to it will be impossible (being able to create appropriate musical experiences is an essential skill of professional music therapists).

Depression often feels like something being done to the sufferer. We experience being prisoners trapped inside it. Empowering oneself to movement in the face of this emotional ensnarement can be liberating. Singing, humming, foot-tapping or otherwise becoming a participant of the musical experience transforms the passive victim of a dysthymic mood into a self-actualized effector. Being in control of our immediate environment and of ourselves generally feels good (even if the control results in an off-key karaoke or fluttering episode of air-guitar). Neil Diamond wrote in Song Sung Blue: Funny thing, but you can sing it with a cry in your voice, And before you know it, start to feeling good, You simply got no choice.

Depressed people want things to be better, our perceived realities often entrap us in a troubled landscape far away from the things that we desire. Yet, where we cannot travel in reality, we can fly to in our imaginations. Listening to music and being guided through images of a better experience can be uplifting. Music therapists have long been fond of using Classical music in this effort and suggested guided imagery by professional music therapists has been a mainstream therapy for decades. On the internet there are many musical You-tubes that put together images and mood music. When down and in need of relief these You-tubes are free and can be useful. Its also possible to pop in a CD and look through your own photo album. Or in anticipation of future need to create a file of web images with Power-Point that can accompany an appropriately evocative music file or CD.

I dont really think Bear was preparing a self-help seminar for depression suffers when he was demonstrating how to get free of quicksand, but the music therapy approach to depressive episodes seems to parallel his directions: Lay down in the mire and find you ISO so that you stop further sinking. Then, in one manner or another, implement a contravention that helps to crawl or swim out of the depression toward a better mood.

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Tobin S. Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon May-16-11 08:22 PM
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1. Great post, HS
Music has helped get through rough times throughout my life. Now days I listen to the radio at work and it helps move the day along quicker. It's a little light of joy in my mind in a day that I would otherwise be thinking about the clock and when I could go home and maybe dreading the next task.

There have been times in my life when music was much more important to me. When I was a teenager it shaped my identity. When I was in my twenties it lifted me out of despair. Just a little relief from the hellish experience in my head through music would help me keep going. It may have helped to save my life.

When the music fits the mood and resonates in your mind, like you say, and takes you directly to the emotion in your head, you can feel what is real within you when otherwise you may have been distracting yourself or keeping yourself otherwise occupied in an attempt to avoid dealing with the pain. At the very least I think music can help you get through a rough day. At the most you may learn how to swim in quicksand. :)
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Forkboy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue May-24-11 04:02 PM
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2. Awesome post.
I honestly don't analyze the music I listen to as it relates to me personally all that often. I usually try to figure out where the band is coming from, what their musical goal and approach is, and rarely do I think of it's effect on me beyond knowing that music of any kind is almost always a plus for me. There's no one kind of music that always makes me feel good or always makes me feel bad. On one day a song may cheer me up and on the next that same song may not hit me at all, or even bum me out. It's a very fickle thing, and I think it would backfire if I started consciously trying to find music to fit my moods. Any music could fit any of my moods.

I'd love to actually talk to a music therapist and see what they make of the stuff I get into. There's some definite issues at play in some of it, especially the black metal area, which any psychologist could have a field day with. It's one of the most misanthropic types of music out there, yet it makes me feel good. I don't even know myself why I like it, I just do, even though much of the subject matter is the total opposite of who I am. It's not a genre that lends itself to bleeding heart liberals. :)
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