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«SONGWRITING IN THERAPY BY JOHN A. DOWNES A Final Project submitted to the Campus Alberta Applied Psychology: Counselling Initiative In partial ...»

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increasing the self-esteem of women abused by their male partners. The feminist approach to music therapy included gender-role socialization through lyric analysis and songwriting. Six women from a treatment group of 35 met criteria for inclusion in the data-collection part of the study. Criteria were the completion of at least eight of the feminist music therapy sessions and completion of the final evaluation and interview. Effects of feminist music therapy were assessed through the analysis of individual interviews and pre- and posttest scores on the Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (TSCS) written by Fitts (as cited in Curtis, 2000) as well as by analyzing the content of the women’s original compositions. TSCS measures indicated a distinct increase in self-esteem for four or the six women, and a moderate increase for one. However, Curtis notes, “because of the nature of the case-study approach, it is not possible to definitively identify any single factor as solely responsible for this increased selfesteem in the case of the TSCS results alone” (Curtis, 2000, p. 366).

Content analysis of the women’s final interviews and the lyrics or their selfcomposed songs indicated an increase in self-esteem for all six participants (Curtis, 2000). Curtis was particularly impressed by the ability of their songs to reflect the growth in power and other changes experienced by the women.

Recently, Baker and Wigram (2005) published an edited book on songwriting in music therapy in which several authors share methods and techniques that they use. Reference to the work of some of these authors appears in this guide to songwriting in therapy techniques. One article stands out

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Magill (2005) write, the use of songwriting with multicultural patients may be enhanced when the patient’s cultural issues are understood and acknowledged, when the music therapist is knowledgeable of song forms with which the patient may feel familiar and comfortable, and when the music therapist is flexible in addressing diverse clinical needs. (p. 228) Not only do Dileo and Magill (2005) outline the difference in musical forms that exist between individualistic and collectivist cultures, but they also give examples of specific song forms from various cultures. These song forms, such as Latino music, the Klezmer doina, African songs, and East Indian chants will likely not be familiar to most therapists who have been raised and educated in western culture and universities. These forms will also not be easily found in the style and rhythm repertoires of electronic keyboard instruments, so replicating these song forms requires some research and the learning of new skills. These skills in combination with awareness of one’s own cultural attitudes and biases can allow therapists to “facilitate and witness unforgettably poignant and transformative experiences that impact deeply upon the critical … moments of patients’ lives” (Dileo & Magill, 2005, p. 245).

The research presented above demonstrates how songwriting in therapy has been used both as a tool for assessment as and an intervention for therapeutic growth and development. Although these uses sound somewhat clinical and dry, one can also appreciate that the lyrical content of songs serve as

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Narrative Influence A song, with its combination of emotive music and lyrics, offers the listener a glimpse into the perceptions and reality of the writer or performer. In effect, songs tell stories of emotions and events, past, present and future. As such, the act of songwriting is a creative act of storytelling. Songwriting is a process of using words and music to discover meaning and understanding, much as Anderson and Goolishian (1992) suggest in regards to language use in counselling. Meaning and understanding may be expressed in words, and those words make up a narrative.

Many concepts from narrative therapy may influence the practice of songwriting in therapy. Narrative therapy suggests a process of re-authoring one’s life, beginning with the externalization of problems (Muntigl, 2004; White & Murray, 2002). Song lyrics encourage the poetical and fanciful, thus, creating narrative in lyrics allows for the externalization of problems. For example, instead of relating oneself to an illness such as cancer (I am sick), one might externalize it (this growth within me) thereby allowing it to be a part of the whole, yet not allowing it to be the source of one’s identity. In effect, it can have a separate voice because creativity in expressive works of art such as songs can accommodate such perspective shifts and even normalize them as common creative expressions.

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Labov and Waletsky, and identifies three stages as being obligatory: these are the complication (problem), the evaluation (the client’s attitude toward the story) and the resolution. This narrative process suggests topical material for songwriting in therapy. These stages can conceivably be addressed through a sequence of songs, or even within a single song. Music itself often reflects a similar sequence of opening statements (an expositional theme or verse), exploration/expansion (the development section or a chorus) and resolution (recapitulation, coda and resolution section or a bridge and repeated chorus).

The role that therapists play is that of a facilitator of movement between each stage, gradually accompanying clients toward the resolutions of their problems.





Both Muntigl (2004) and Hatcher (2004) suggest that using open questions helps clients progress in their therapy. Questions provide “the resource for scaffolding clients in using new meaning making resources” (Muntigl, 2004, p.

p. 120), or as others note, the questioning technique encourages clients to delve deeper into the meaning of their lyrical narratives (Dalton & Krout, 2005; Hatcher, 2004). Songwriting in therapy can describe the past, present and a hoped-for future with the possibility of building a sequence toward problem resolution, healing, and perspective change.

In counselling work, White (2001) suggests that therapy can facilitate a reauthoring process in which clients are empowered to discover their active role and influence in problem maintenance and resolution. Such a process helps clients create “a wide range of possibilities for action in a world that were not

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one’s life may be evidenced through the client’s use of language in the construction of lyrics and process of therapy. Clients may no longer require the scaffolding provided by a therapist, and they may “deploy the linguistic resources made available from prior therapist/client interactions” (Muntigl, 2004, p. 122).

The client’s independent ability to utilize new meaning making resources may indicate that therapy is no longer needed. Muntigl (2004) is interested in the development of clients’ semiotic potential and he views progress as something that can be measured through analysis of language. This topic will be revisited later in this project paper as a possible tool for analysis of data.

The benefits of writing are numerous. Whether writing is done by a counsellor or client, the simple fact that information has been transcribed and recorded in a tangible form means that the material can be revisited, pondered, and explored further (White & Murray, 2002; Yalom, 2003).

Putting these traces into writing not only seizes the fleeting moments and gives them some permanency, but, given the power differential between spoken and written languages (and the higher status afforded to written text, outside of therapeutic exchanges, in modern society), it may also lend more authority to the stories being told. (Speedy,

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David Epston suggests that using therapeutic documents “increases the impact of talking therapy fourfold” (White, cited in Speedy, 2005, p. 285). These documents can take the form of counsellor-written summary letters, poetry, or

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solid form, thus allowing future reflection as well as demonstrating progression and change. Speedy (2005) suggests that writing holds images and ideas, giving clients and counsellors a focus for pondering meaning. A poem can open up considerable conversational space and encourage more poetic exchange (Speedy, 2005). White and Murray encourage clients on their therapeutic journey by writing letters to them and having clients write letters to themselves from their imagined future selves. Both of these techniques are used as a means of instilling hope and allowing clients to notice possibilities for positive changes.

DeSalvo (1999) states that writing and therapy “are mutually beneficial; my work deepens because of my therapy; but my therapy progresses because of my work” (p. 41).

Writing for personal reasons is a common activity for adolescents, according to Roscoe, Krug and Schmidt (1985). They reason that at a time when adolescents struggle with identity formation, writing is the safest form of selfexpression as it is an act of expressing oneself to oneself. Writing thus “allows greater articulation and clarification of thoughts and feelings, and is safe in that it avoids hurt and rejection by others” (Roscoe, Krug, & Schmidt, 1985, p. 843).

Writing can take many forms such as journals, poetry, stories, and lyrics.

Perhaps what makes writing able to contain the emotions and thoughts of the writer in a vessel of safe containment is the fact that writing is socially sanctioned as an approved and revered method of self-expression. So although one might write to oneself, one might also take some comfort in sharing the written form

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expressive freedom.

Poetry and Journals Roscoe, Krug, and Schmidt (1985) report that 37.5% of adolescents use poetry as a means of self-expression, followed by 33% using journals, 26% using short stories, and 12.5% using songwriting. Alexander (1990) concluded in her literature review that “adolescents find poetry writing a safe way to express feelings and that the arts may open a way for adults to listen to young people” (p.

126). Given the percentages of adolescents who write, we might assume that many adults have a history of writing down their experiences, thoughts and feelings, and that these forms may be explored once again in a therapeutic context. Bolton (1999) suggests that any life crisis may bring about a renewed desire to write. Intense emotions seem to facilitate the desire for self-expression, and here once again, the written word can safely hold the experience while also helping to provide clarity and understanding.

Like any artistic form of self-expression, poetry speaks from the interior of human experience. It provides a deep understanding of subjective experience and multiple realities and relationships (Shapiro, 2004). A value of expressive writing is that it provides a window into the writer’s point of view, thus exposing the beliefs and emotions that contribute to behaviour. Such insight, if shared with a therapist, can be grist for the therapeutic mill. Poetry or journal entries may provide therapists with a deeper understanding of clients’ past and present experiences. This, in turn, can lead to exploration and movement toward healing

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growth happening in their lives. For example, Mann (2001) suggests that based on research findings, optimism about the past and future may be trained. She states, “writing tasks have been shown to be powerful in affecting people’s emotions, cognitions, and behaviors” (p. 27). Her study found that “writing about a positive future leads not only to changes in optimism, but also to changes in self-reports of behaviors associated with optimism” (p. 27). For those participants in her study who were low in optimism scores, writing about a positive future raised their level of optimism and changed their health-related behaviours (Mann, 2001). It is interesting to note that it was the writing task alone that precipitated these changes. I imagine that the results could have been even better had clients been working with therapists as part of the intervention.

Writing in a poetic or journal format can help clients explore all possibilities that are open to them (Stone, 1998). “Journaling can be the means by which clients engage in wholesome reflections about life, by which they make decisions, and by which they evaluate their behavior” (Stone, 1998, p. 537). So often people do not take the time for reflection and exploration of possibilities.

Journaling encourages one to make the time. To do so offers writers an advantage over just talking about the issues in life. Writing gives our thoughts solid form, unlike speech, which is transient and often glib. Another advantage of journaling is that the journal content can remain private. This allows writers to be uninhibited and free in their self-expression. Also, the thought of artistic merit can be disregarded in writing a journal. Creating poetry or song lyrics may cause

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the inner critic (Cameron, 1992) than poetry or songwriting is.



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