Critical points and levels of depth in the songwriting process

Psychodynamic-oriented music therapists vary in their perspectives of where critical points in the songwriting process occur. Unlike outcome- oriented approaches, all interviewees practicing psychodynamic- informed approaches agreed that songwriting was rarely introduced in the initial few sessions of meeting a new songwriter. Rapport is needed before people will open themselves up to deep, probing songwriting experiences. Further, many songwriters engage in improvisations immediately prior to commencing songwriting, as a form of priming where the unconscious material is brought to the surface (Chapter 8). The cognitive and emotional responses are then transformed from the abstract non-verbal to more concrete verbal expressions - lyrics.

While awareness and processing of unconscious material can occur at any stage during the songwriting process, clinicians tended to agree that the most significant work emerges during the middle to later stages of a song creation (after a number of sessions) and/or after the song has been created and its meaning and significance are discussed. Time is needed to develop that deep and trusting therapeutic alliance so that the songwriter feels safe to open to himself and to the therapist.

When working with people with acute mental illness, there is a tendency to stay at a more supportive and insight-oriented level, because there is a need to establish security, a sense of belonging, a sense of integrity, and to experience intimacy. Many clinicians reported that the songwriters they were working with were just too 'unwell' and 'unstable' to create songs at a deep and transformative level.

Songwriting attempts to be reconstructive and transformative, bringing about a conscious awareness of the songwriter's inner world and processing it. However, there are many circumstances that may prevent a truly deep and reconstructive songwriting experience to emerge. Time to verbally and musically explore issues may not be available, and songwriting subsequently reaches only supportive and insight-oriented levels. For example, some psychodynamic clinicians may only have the possibility to see people once or twice. Probing too deep with these people is contraindicated when a trusting relationship has not yet been established or when there is insufficient therapy time available to devote to processing highly sensitive and painful feelings. When people are expected to attend therapy for multiple sessions, the songwriting process has the possibility to take on a transformative role. The therapist has the time to develop a strong therapeutic alliance and have the songwriter feel safe to open up, and also have sufficient time to give issues the space to be processed and resolved at a pace that meets the songwriter's ability to move forward.

At times the spontaneous improvised song creations that occur in therapy may be transformative, clearly connecting with unconscious thoughts, feelings, or events. However, engaging the songwriter in a process-oriented verbal dialogue following the song creation may be too confronting for some songwriters. They may not be ready to 'own' the expressions contained in their lyrics and music; just having them expressed may be sufficient at this point. When using improvised songwriting approaches with children, one clinician recounted:

One seven-year-old boy created many songs about ice hockey, and the ice hockey images were symbols of his inner feelings. There's a term called 'a sudden death in ice hockey' (which refers to a point in the game when one act can end the game) and this was used in a song that was about his brother's death. The song really served a function of not owning the feelings at the time because he was not yet able to emotionally live those feelings . . . His first song was very closed. He said that this first piece about ice hockey described the moment when he saw his brother dead (following an accident at home). Over time, he created more songs. . . . The transformative moment occurred when he created a song and gave it the title of his dead brother. This is the saddest piece I've ever heard. We were having Music Therapy almost exactly a year after that piece was created and I said to him 'Would you like to play the piece you made a year ago about your brother?' He said 'Okay. Yes, I will play it' and he played it and then he said, 'I want to compose a new one about my brother.' He composed a piece, a totally different kind of song. Less than two months later, he wanted to play it again and then he changed the ending of it. He also wanted to change the title of the piece. He went to the computer, and letter-by-letter he changed the letters of his brother's name and replaced it with his own name. This was the transformative moment in this process.

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