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Music as Therapy

by Chandra Brandt, MA, NCC, LPC

You’ve heard it said, “music is universal!” Music is almost always a theme in any activity that we, as humans, engage in. From celebrations to funerals, in group settings or even just alone in the shower, we revel in it. It speaks to us on a soul-level. We identify with it, and it can even define us.

Would you believe me if I told you that when you’re choosing a song to listen to, you’re being your own therapist? Well, you are! Utilizing music to process our external and internal experience is one of the healthier coping mechanisms that we can use. As quoted by Georgia Cates, “Music is what feelings sound like.” At points, all of us struggle with understanding our emotional experience, or with expressing ourselves to those around us. While this may be the case, in those moments we mostly likely can identify a song that speaks to exactly what we are feeling. For example, when we are feeling hurt or despair, we may listen to music that is slow and somber in order to feel more connected to ourselves and the world around us. Similarly, if we are feeling joyful or excited, we may choose to listen to music that is more upbeat and lively. Classical music may help us to feel creative, country music may help us to feel in love! Rock or rap music might make us feel bad-ass, and jazz music might make us feel calm and cool!

Because we can use music as vehicle through which we can identify, express and manage our thoughts, feelings and behavior on an intrapersonal level, it can also be used to help us make connections interpersonally. Of course, what different lyrics, songs and genres mean to us will vary from person to person. The associations and connections that we tie to music will be just as unique as we are, but you may or may not be surprised to find that when you share a playlist with a friend or stranger, we are more in alignment than we may have originally thought!

“Just take a breath love; fill your lungs up; rest your head, there’s no sense in losing sleep.” – Losing Me, Gabrielle Aplin & JP Cooper

This song is beautiful and it makes me feel calm. It makes me think that there are good people, and that these two want to feel safe with each other. – Client

“Don’t you wish you could go back sometimes; don’t you wish you could go back home; tryin’ to remember just where it was; remember you ain’t alone.” – Coming Down, Tyler Childers

I like those lyrics because it makes me think of someone losing themselves, but at the same time reminds you of why you are still here and that everyone has people on their side that want the best for you. – Client


“She’s unpredictable, unforgettable; it’s unusual, unbelievable; how I’m such a fool; yeah, I’m such a fool for her.” – Beautiful Crazy, Luke Combs

I can play that song one-hundred times a night and feel the power and love in his voice, letting us know how deeply he loves her, unconditionally.  – Client

“This might not be an easy time; there’s rivers to cross and hills to climb; some days we might fall apart; and some nights might feel cold and dark; some day we’ll look back and smile; and know it was worth every mile; and it don’t matter to me; wherever we are is where I wanna be.” – Starting Over, Chris Stapleton

Easy times rarely come our way. Life strategically puts obstacles in our lives that test our relationships. If you’re lucky enough, you find someone to walk with. Someone to help you swim the rivers, scale to the tops of hills, keep warm through the nights. And when morning comes, you find the overlook to your journey in life together.  – Client

“Lookin’ back all I can say about all the things he did for me; Is I hope I’m at least half the dad he didn’t have to be.” – He Didn’t Have to Be, Brad Paisley

This is one of the first songs that had an emotional meaning for me. I thought I’d hated my step-dad, but now I hear this song and it makes me thankful for the lessons he taught me, and to think about my attitude. – Client

“Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word; and love dares you to care for; the people on the edge of the night; and love dares you to change our way of; caring about ourselves; this is our last dance; this is our last dance; this is ourselves… under pressure.” – Under Pressure, David Bowie & Queen

This song alludes to the fact that we all face difficulties in life, but posits that the real challenge is, and should be, focusing on one another. It’s about showing compassion and love, rather than being judgmental. The song itself dares us to love. – Client