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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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However, how one approaches any creative task will affect how beneficial the task may be. Music therapy, unlike music performance, has few expectations of right or wrong ways of participating within a music therapy context. Quite likely, poetry and songwriting can be approached in a similar manner, thus negating the effects of the inner critic. Also, creative writing such as poetry or songwriting has the advantage of being sonorous to the ear, succinct, and stimulating to the mind’s eye. Although the songs of songwriting in therapy may not conform to standards of modern musical aesthetics, they may still give some enjoyment and present potent emotional content with each listening. To listen to one’s selfcomposed song is easy. Re-reading journals might be more like a task or chore in comparison. A particular characteristic of a song is the link between lyrical message and melody. As any jingle writer knows, melody helps internalize the message of the lyrics; therefore songs can be potent tools for encouraging messages of hope, motivation and conviction, or healing and resolving problems and issues of one’s life. Perhaps the greatest gift of a song is the link between music and emotion. DeSalvo (1999) believes that the healing power of writing is only experienced if cognitions and memory are linked to emotions. She states, “We must write in a way that links detailed descriptions of what happened with feelings – then and now – about what happened” (DeSalvo, 1999, p. 25). A song would certainly meet these criteria for writing in that both narrative and emotion are addressed within the one expressive form.

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toward songwriting. Journaling may offer the first glimpse of important issues that are weighing on the minds of clients, and poetry may offer the lyrical components of rhythm, rhyme, and metaphor. Everyone has stories and the words to tell them, a rhythmical body, a tonality of voice, and a natural and encultured understanding and responsiveness to music. In the field of music therapy this makes everyone a potential musician and songwriter. The one component that clients may need is a facilitator who helps them give form and voice to their songs.

Facilitating Songwriting As a facilitator of songwriting in therapy, the music therapist or counsellor plays an important role. This facilitative role allows clients to explore and express themselves and their ideas in a creative context that may be new and somewhat awkward for them. There is a balancing act that needs to take place in order for the facilitator to draw out and channel clients’ creativity and input without crossing the line of controlling, leading, or otherwise marking the resulting song with too much of his or her own ideas and preferences. Specific techniques of songwriting in therapy are explained later in this document, and each one demonstrates how facilitators can give as much choice and control to clients as possible. This section reviews what some other authors have stated in regards to the facilitative process.

Assessment is the first process that is required before embarking on the therapeutic journey with a client (Hiebert, 1996). The next step in the process is

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to be established before in-depth sharing of patient concerns can begin” (Robb, 1996, p. 31). In addition to the necessary trust that encourages sharing, trust is also an important precursor for cooperative creative acts. For many people the simple act of verbal sharing is accompanied by thoughts of wondering what the other thinks of them and what they have said. This feeling is perhaps even more intense when the self-expression is creative in nature. It could be that many societal factors such as the belief that artistic expression is the domain of trained artists and writers, and the belief that what one produces through creativity is no good results in such self-consciousness. Such beliefs and statements illustrate what Julia Cameron calls the inner critic (Cameron, 1992). A sensitive facilitator of songwriting in therapy needs to be aware of the inner critic that most people carry with them as part of their psyche. DeSalvo (1999) warns that we can derail our creative process “if we think about the product rather than the process; if we judge and criticize our work and ourselves” (p. 111). Creating a safe, trusting and non-judgmental environment helps facilitate creative expression and thus quiet the voice of the inner critic while allowing the creative voice of the client to emerge.

One last important theoretical aspect of cooperative songwriting in therapy addresses the issue of de-centering musical practice (Denborough, 2002). As a facilitator with musical skill, one might find the power differential between the two parties involved in the creative process is unequal due to the difference in skill and comfort level with the medium. As this might be the case, the facilitator

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control as possible to clients. Denborough (2002) states, “The ways in which music is related to in current western culture often privilege and separate the role of ‘performer’ from the listener” (p. 3). He suggests that the facilitator can decenter from the songwriting and performance process by, a) using only clients’ words for lyrics, b) facilitating the process of having clients choose the chords and melody for the song, c) including as much flexibility as possible throughout the creative process, d) matching the musical style to the skill level of the clients,





e) inviting client feedback throughout the creative process, and f) deflecting any praise directed toward the facilitator’s performance back toward the song and the clients themselves. The secret of de-centering then is to make the clients and their songs the focus of attention. This is done by making the creative process dependent on the clients’ input and involving them as much as possible in performance and recording. Although these are practical tips, they are important to remember in regards to theory. The client remains the focus in therapy. This is stated emphatically only because of the nature of musical performance and how it is viewed in western culture. It is all too easy for a facilitator to slip into the artist as performer mode, thus taking the spotlight and allowing his or her ego to be the focus of attention.

Summary The preceding sections of this paper summarized key research-based and theoretical concepts related to songwriting in therapy. The use of songwriting in therapy was illustrated in a brief literature review. This was followed by related

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hoped that the connection between various expressive forms in writing can be seen and appreciated. The inclusion of narrative theory, journaling and writing poetry provide a rationale for the use of therapeutic song writing when client characteristics and circumstances warrant its use.

There is an assumption made in the music therapy literature that those who wish to implement songwriting procedures already have the required knowledge base and skills. The music therapy literature contains little guidance regarding the procedures for implementing songwriting in therapy. Moreover, how to treat the resulting product in an ethical manner, how to analyze the product as data, and what specific skills are required for the therapist and client are rarely if ever addressed.

A resource for therapists and counsellors that outlines various techniques for songwriting in therapy and addresses the concerns stated above will be helpful for both music therapists and therapists interested in the use of songwriting in therapy in practice or research. The argument for including creative work such as songwriting in therapy is a strong one. As DeSalvo (1999) writes, creative work “permits us to pass from numbness to feeling, from denial to acceptance, from conflict and chaos to order and resolution, from rage and loss to profound growth, from grief to joy” (p. 57). This optimistic view of the potential of supported creative writing aligns with this author’s views of counselling and the power of creativity.

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A literature review was performed in an attempt to gather and synthesize all possible information regarding songwriting as a creative treatment procedure

in music therapy and counselling. Search terms for the literature review included:

songwriting, therapy, music therapy, journaling, poetry, lyrics, chord progressions, music, writing, songs, counselling, art therapy, copyright, creativity, research, and data analysis. The search terms used included related disciplines and activities as they contributed valuable information that was not contained in the music therapy literature alone. For example, the field of art therapy has addressed how artistic products are treated in regards to ownership and confidentiality in a therapeutic context.

Search methods included: internet search engines such as Google, and the data bases Academic Search Premier, Proquest, PsycArticles, PsycInfo, ERIC, Ingenta, as well as the catalogues of the Universities of Calgary, Lethbridge, and Athabasca libraries.

Information gleaned from the literature review informed the writing of a guide for songwriting in therapy by presenting an overview of various approaches used for songwriting in therapy and research projects. It also helped define the need for specific instructions, suggestions and procedural techniques for songwriting in therapy that were largely missing in the literature. There was no other data collection other than the literature review.

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The design of the research is qualitative because it focuses on the process, implementation and development of therapeutic techniques (Patton, as cited in Mertens, 1998). A literature review was completed. Most often the literature mentioned songwriting techniques as part of overall treatment plans, but the instructions for implementing the techniques were missing or unclear. The guide for songwriting in therapy acknowledges the source of each technique as presented in the literature, and uses deductive reasoning to provide a more thorough explanation for implementing the techniques so they may be successfully implemented by others. Additionally, the author presents selfcreated techniques for songwriting in therapy based on his fifteen years of clinical experience in the field of music therapy.

Data Collection and Analysis An initial literature review of the subject of songwriting in therapy resulted in a paucity of documents devoted exclusively to the topic. Therefore it was not unrealistic to search for all available writings, publications, and materials pertaining to songwriting in therapy techniques. Sources of information were identified through a comprehensive search of the music therapy literature, including journals, books, conference proceedings, and dissertations.

Similarly to Bruscia’s (1987) book on improvisational methods, each songwriting technique is described according to a basic outline that provides a uniform way of organizing the information. This also provides a framework for synthesizing different techniques according to common goals or client needs.

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prerequisites, therapist skills, goals, media and roles, format, preparation required, procedures, data interpretation, and client-therapist dynamics or group dynamics.

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The final product for this project is a guide for songwriting in therapy that may be published and act as a resource for music therapists and counsellors who wish to include songwriting as a therapeutic treatment procedure. The format of the guidebook follows.

Section one presents songwriting in therapy techniques with detailed instructions and examples of materials. Those techniques mentioned in the literature are fully explained and referenced. The author also supplies additional techniques and suggestions not found in the literature.

Section two provides an example of an ethical dilemma regarding songwriting in therapy as a means of illustrating the complications that may arise if therapists do not have a plan for how co-created music is handled in an ethical manner. A model consent form and agreement for use form are also presented in this section. Finally, section three presents a resource list for materials, software and resources for further information.

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Introduction This guide for songwriting in therapy has been constructed so that you may utilize these songwriting techniques in your music therapy or counselling session. Many of the techniques require minimal musical skill, while others require training in music such as understanding the format of music and having the skills of playing an instrument and being able to carry a tune with your voice.

It is hoped that no matter what your skill level, that you may find some useful resources in this guide, or be inspired by these techniques and adapt them to your and your clients’ level of skill.

The material is organized in such a way so that you can find appropriate techniques to use with your clients. However, before utilizing these techniques, I encourage you to review the section of this manual regarding ethical concerns that are inherent in the process of co-creating any form of artistic expression. I have provided examples of consent forms that may be used or adapted to suit your purposes.

I hope that you enjoy this guide and that the work that is inspired by it is of great benefit to you and your clients. It is my firm belief that creativity leads to growth, and I expect that this will be confirmed in your use of these materials. I welcome your feedback so that I may improve this guide in the future.

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People often ask songwriters what comes first, the words or the music?

Either way works, and sometimes both are created at the same time. For the purposes of this guide, the processes have been separated. This section presents suggestions on how to approach lyric writing. It is hoped that these ideas will inspire the reader’s own creative approaches.



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