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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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Data Interpretation As mentioned previously in this guide, clients should be the main interpreters of their own data. Their interpretations are the stories that result from explaining their word associations to the therapist.

Client/Group-Therapist Dynamics It may seem for some clients that this activity has a power differential between the client and therapist due to the therapist presenting the stimulus words. To counteract this, it might be fun and useful to reverse the roles and have clients present the stimulus words and the therapist respond. The client’s questions, and the therapist’s responses may help level the playing field as well as build the therapeutic relationship. The same methods can be applied to groups.

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Attributed to: John Downes Salient Features This lyric writing approach depends on the recounting of dreams or the facilitation of waking dreamlike states.

Clinical Uses This method of lyric writing may appeal to clients who enjoy recounting their dreams, telling stories, or fantasizing in a relaxed state. For people who have difficulty when faced with the task of creating and writing lyrics or poetry, recounting a story from a dream may be an easier task.

Client Prerequisites Clients need to be able to verbally share their dream stories, and they also need to have the ability to dream or create mental images in their mind’s eye.

Therapist Skills Therapists need only listen to the dream story and write down some of the client’s words. The technique called Listening for the Lyrical in this guide provides further directions. Facilitation skills for guided fantasies through music and imagery are necessary if clients are to experience a waking dreamlike state during the session.


1. To provide imagery and stories for lyric writing.

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therapeutic process.

Media and Roles When clients recount their dreams, therapists may write down some of the client’s words for use in lyric writing. When using guided fantasy techniques the therapist will need a recording of relaxing music, possibly a programmatic piece of music for the imagery section of the fantasy, and a pre-written relaxation script to both induce a relaxed state and end the exercise.

Format This activity can take place in individual or group counselling sessions.

The challenges increase in a group setting, but adaptations can be made to the process to accommodate everyone in the group.

Preparation Required Writing implements are needed. If using the guided fantasy technique for a waking dreamlike experience then the following materials are needed: A comfortable spot for clients to lie down or sit, relaxation music (e.g., Musical Acupuncture by Janalea Hoffman, 1993), a recording of programmatic music (e.g., The Moldau section of Ma Vlast by Smetena) or a suitable selection of instrumental music selected by the therapist, a prepared relaxation text (such as the one provided below). Therapists need to be prepared for clients’ emotional reactions to music and their imagery. Therapists need to understand the power of music to elicit emotional responses and memories. All music should be reviewed thoroughly prior to using it in session.

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To use dream imagery, all the therapist needs to due is ask clients to tell them a dream and pay attention to the words that clients use. These words can be recorded on paper, and therapists can ask questions to encourage clients to provide more detailed descriptions and ideas regarding the meanings of the dreams.

Facilitating the guided fantasy is more complex. First, explain the rationale behind participation in this exercise and explain the process, then obtain consent for participation from the client. The relaxation music is played at a suitable level of volume and the therapist begins reading the relaxation text. When it is time to begin the guided fantasy, change the recording to the programmatic music. Allow the client to visualize to the music in the relaxed state. When the piece is over, switch back to the relaxation music and complete the “after visualization” text.

When clients are ready, ask them to recall their experience and visualization, taking notes in the process. Finally, use the material for writing lyrics.

Relaxation Text Example by John Downes, MTA You are going to relax, so begin by making yourself as comfortable as possible. Put your hands on your lap, or by your side and close your eyes.

Concentrate on relaxing every muscle in your body. Starting at your toes and feet, release any tension there.

Continue to move the sense of relaxation up your legs as if a wave of

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absorbed in it. Feel it moving further up you body. Your lower body is now totally relaxed. Take a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. Let your stomach and chest become free of all tension. Breathe deeply and let it out with a sigh.

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enveloped your arms. Let your shoulders and arms feel heavy and relaxed.

Give your body permission to relax.

Let your body feel so heavy and free from tension. Enjoy that feeling, because you are in control of it. If you feel any tension, find it in your mind and concentrate on relaxing the muscle. You have nothing else to do right now, so relax.

Take another deep breath and feel the calm enfold you. Now the warm wave of light is moving up through your neck. Relax your neck and feel the warm light move to the top of your head. Relax the muscles of your neck and scalp.

Feel the warm light slowly move on to your face. Relax your eyes and mouth.

Enjoy this total relaxation and feel its warmth.

Imagine the wave of warm light washing over you as a shallow wave would wash over your body if you were lying on the seashore. Feel it pass from your toes to your head and back down again. Feel the warm wave of light engulf your body, bringing you calmness, peacefulness, and total relaxation. Take a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. Remind yourself that you have nothing else to do right now.

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where you feel safe and secure. This is the place where you can return to at any time during your fantasy. Now let the music take you on a journey. Remember that although the music is in the background, you are always in control and can always return to your favorite place.

(After fantasy "trip") Feel yourself sensing your body being washed with waves of warm light.

Take a deep breath in and out. You are now fully aware of your relaxed body.

The tide of warm light gradually retreats back into the ocean of calm from which it came, leaving you feeling invigorated and ready to stretch your limbs.

Keep your eyes closed and take a deep breath and stretch if you want to. On the count of five through to one, you will find yourself feeling more and more alert.

You will then allow yourself to enjoy a few moments of quiet. 5,4,3,2,1. Open your eyes.

Data Interpretation It is up to the clients to interpret and provide meaning for their own dreams and fantasies. Therapists can ask questions in an attempt to help provide clarity and understanding for both themselves and the clients.

Client/Group-Therapist Dynamics Creation of a safe space is paramount when either sharing dreams, or participating in relaxation exercises. Therapists need to allow clients to create their safe spaces when beginning a relaxation procedure. This activity may not suit some groups or individuals due to the vulnerable position a relaxed client is

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disruptive for others in a group. Others will have difficulty trusting therapists or group members, and thus will not be able to relax or close their eyes. It is important for therapists to recognize these issues before even attempting this activity. Flexibility is also important, as is the option of allowing group members to sit out of the activity if they cannot participate. Therapists will want to avoid any power struggles with individuals who cannot relax or remain quiet as such conflict negates the ability to relax or have visions.

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Attributed to: John Downes Salient Features This technique uses clients’ journals as source material for song lyrics.

Since people often write journals in the form of narrative, they offer a rich source of material that includes reflections on feelings, thoughts, experiences and often, poetic language.

Clinical Uses If clients are already journaling as part of their therapy, using their prewritten materials as a source may make writing song lyrics that much easier.

Client Prerequisites Clients must be journaling as either part of their therapy or as part of their usual lifestyle habits. They must be willing to use their journals as source materials for songwriting.

Therapist Skills Therapists can educate clients in regards to what kinds of materials is useful for songwriting. Therapists can facilitate the process of writing lyrics by suggesting themes to explore, or styles of music to use, but the creation of lyrics should be up to the clients themselves.


1. To write a song that is derived from journal material, thus sharing personal thoughts and feelings in a socially accepted medium.

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while writing a journal.

Media and Roles The media used are the clients’ journal entries. The role of clients is to identify stories, thoughts, issues, feelings and poetic language from their journals that may be suitable for exploration in songwriting. The therapists’ role is to facilitate the writing process. Therapists help explore the journal materials by asking clients open questions and declarative probes.

Format Given the personal nature of journals, this technique should be used only in individual sessions.

Preparation Required Prior to using this technique, clients need to be journaling for some time so that there is a wealth of material to draw upon. Therapists will need to ask clients if they desire to use their journals for the purposes of writing lyrics to songs. Therapists will need to brief clients on the kinds of material they may want to look for in their journals.

Procedures Follow the points of preparation as outlined above. Therapists may ask clients to review their journals for stories that are particularly significant. Clients should identify and write down all the feeling words, all the thinking words, and any use of poetic language (i.e., metaphor and other imagery) in those stories. If clients wish to write their journal story into song, then therapists can facilitate the

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Clients are then encouraged to organize the words into a lyrical format that makes sense to them.

Data Interpretation As with other forms of client writing, the clients themselves should be encouraged to analyze their own work and define its meaning. Counsellors can encourage this process by approaching the materials with a sense of caring, curiosity, and genuine interest.

Client/Group-Therapist Dynamics A high degree of trust is required for clients to share journal materials with their therapists. Such sharing should be honored, respected, and recognized by therapists. Therapists will have to create a safe place for clients in order for them to share journal material since this is often material that was meant to remain private. It may help to review confidentiality practices prior to working with this method.

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As mentioned in the previous section on writing lyrics, lyrics and music can be created at the same time. The processes are separated in this guide so that various means of creating lyrics or music can be explained simply. Users of this guide may complete the lyric writing process and then refer to this section of the guide to review various means of creating musical forms. It is hoped that readers will be inspired to create their own means of facilitating the creation of music by reading the following ideas.

Title: Making Chord Choices With Cards Attributed to: Unknown, adapted by John Downes Salient Features The music for songs can be constructed in a couple of ways. Some composers construct a pleasing chord progression first, and then compose their melodies to fit over the chord progression. Other composers create their melodies first, and then choose suitable chords to accompany the melody. This technique is an example of the former style of creation.

This technique allows clients to make chord choices that are guided by a therapist who has some knowledge of common chord progressions and practices of musical composition. This technique can be used with clients of various functioning levels due to its simplicity.

Clinical Uses

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easy, yet provides satisfactory results. This technique can be used whenever songwriting is a part of a client’s treatment.

Client Prerequisites Clients must be able to communicate choices in some manner. Verbal input is not necessary, as clients can communicate their choices with as little as an ability to eye-point, indicate yes or no, touch their choice, or give some other indication of their decision. Clients must be able to hear.

Therapist Skills Therapists will need rudimentary knowledge of diatonic chords within a few key signatures, and knowledge of common chord progression structures.

Examples of chords and chord names are provided below.


1. To make choices that help construct a chord progression.

2. To increase self-esteem through the act of creativity.

3. To gives clients another means of creative self-expression.

4. To empower clients through choice making.

Media and Roles The media used for this creative process are choice cards with chord names printed on them, and a means of playing the chord sounds using an instrument such as guitar, piano/keyboard, Autoharp, or Omnichord. The role of the therapist is to provide suitable choices for clients and help provide the aural

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the chord choices and possibly help play the instruments.

Format Choosing chords for a song’s chord progression can be done in an individual or group setting. Taking turns will be part of the process if this is done in a group.

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