Music and Counseling: Can an Instrument Tell Someone Else How You Feel?
This past Thursday, amidst cramming for my 7:00 pm final exam that was about to take place later that evening in my Counseling Techniques course, I stumbled across a passage in one of my textbooks that dealt with some instances where a client might have some trouble expressing their thoughts or feelings and presented some ways to go about helping them to do so. The textbook presented these possible solutions in the form of mini case-studies, and for the most part, they were very standard practice for a psychology and education double major and came as no surprise. It was your standard “Have your client draw a picture of what they’re feeling, instead,” or “Try having your client type it out and then submit it to you.” After skimming these over—probably a little too quickly—I stumbled on a sub heading that contained the word “Music” within it, and it caught my eye.
The passage contained an example of a 15 year-old boy that had been through numerous counseling sessions with his counselor and was aware that something wasn’t right with his mental state but he could simply not put it into words. He could not explain to his counselor (or anybody else involved with his life, for that matter) what he felt each and every day and where that could be coming from. During one of the sessions, the passage explains, the boy said to his counselor “I cannot explain to you how I feel in words… Can I play it for you on the piano, though?” (MacKluskie). The boy proceeded to play a small musical composition, after which everyone who had been listening was in tears. The manner in which the boy had recreated the composition he played was enough to convey the intense emotions that the boy could not put into words.
Most of what we hear about music and counseling is that music and playing an instrument can be extremely valuable extratherapeutic factors — that is, beneficial aspects of a client’s life outside of their direct counseling sessions. Extratherapeutic factors are endlessly important in terms of a client creating lasting positive results from counseling sessions, and they are entirely co-dependent. However, in this aforementioned scenario, music had not necessarily been used as an extratherapeutic factor, as it has so often been done already, but rather it was used directly in the counseling session to convey information to the counselor.
I thought long and hard about the instrument that I have played for some time now, the drums, in light of reading this passage, and immediately realized the truth and versatility to it. For the past 12 years, I have used the drums as an outlet for any intense emotions that I might be feeling, ranging from irate anger to extreme bliss. Each emotion results in a slightly different style of play, and I would venture to bet that this applies to any instrument out there, from the triangle to the didgeridoo.
As I tie up this article, I am curious as to how many people share in this sentiment—that instruments one might play can tap into very essential and highly complex emotions better than our own linguistic capabilities can. I would love to hear your thoughts- so please feel free to hit up the comments section and tell me about what you think or any personal experiences you might care to share!
MacCluskie, Kathryn C. Acquiring Counseling Skills: Integrating Theory, Multiculturalism, and Self-awareness. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill, 2010. Print.