Interplay Between Music Therapy and Narrative Therapy- Part 2

Mackenzie Costron. Accredited Music Therapist. Registered Counselling Therapist. Halifax Nova Scotia. Mental Health. Grief. Loss. Bereavement. Dementia. Alzheimer's.

The Narrative Therapy Centre defines narrative therapy as, “a collaborative and non-pathologizing approach to counselling and community work which centres people as the experts of their own lives. A narrative approach views problems as separate from people and assumes people as having many skills, abilities, values, commitments, beliefs and competencies that will assist them to change their relationship with the problems influencing their lives. It is a way of working that considers the broader context of people’s lives particularly in the various dimensions of diversity including class, race, gender, sexual orientation and ability.”

Integrating Music Therapy and Narrative Therapy
There is a strong possibility for the interplay of music and narrative to enhance the therapeutic process through assessing the dominant story, externalizing the problem, and discovering alternative storylines away from the problem. We have the ability to create meaningful session content by focusing on what is important to the person because, “when therapeutic conversations work well, they are supportive with a clear sense of purpose.” (Duvall 2014) Focusing on an individual’s preferred storyline, through music or narrative, away from the problem will increase hope, insight, and drive to deal with the problem in an effective way.

Breathing, meditation, toning, or chanting practices, as examples, can be used to create a relaxing environment and welcome the individual into the session space. The individual could feel anxious, tense, nervous, or stressed with the problem that is influencing their lives. They could also feel uneasy about introducing and discussing the problem with the therapist, who is perhaps unknown to the individual.

It should be made clear to the individual in consultation that the session space can be used to express sounds away from socially constructed norms. Natural sounds, such as gasping, sighing, yawning, sneezing, groaning, whining, laughing, crying, or screaming, within this position should be supported, validated and acknowledged within the therapy session. (Austin 2008) It can be an incredibly therapeutic experience for individuals to express themselves through vocalizations or sounds that are considered inappropriate in today’s society. It also may be difficult for the individual to use words at this moment in therapy. So natural sounds serve as a way for the individual to express the problem in an alternative way, and as a bridge to verbal or musical communication

Singing, playing instruments, and improvisation about the problem can serve as a dramatic way of separating a problem from our lives. (Hudson 2008) Some individuals may find it difficult to completely verbalize their stories so improvisations, using vocalizations, non-sense syllables, or instruments, can serve as a way for individuals to express their stories. (Calson 1997) As music, especially singing and vocalizing, comes from one’s own body it can serve as an honest self-portrait, unveiling unconscious material in relation to identity. (Austin 2008) In addition, the integration of auditory and verbal components through language in narrative therapy and music in music therapy can serve as a well-rounded approach to healing and growth. (Hudson 2008)

Songs, whether they are set to original or pre-existing music, can serve as a tool to describe the problem further through musical experience. Songs that resonate with the problem have the capacity to process what the individual is experiencing further through narrative but also through music creation. Within the session images, words, or phrases that are meaningful with the individual may come up, and these expressions can be used as guidelines to create a song or pick a song that already exists that describes the problem.

Where narrative therapy often uses writing letters within the therapeutic process music therapy often uses recording or preforming music as an opportunity to share experiences with others. (Young 2015, White 2007) Individuals can consult professionals, family, relatives, friends, teachers, or colleagues for whom the individual would like to share their story or journey with. Through support from these individuals rich story development and progress into preferred identity claims can be made. The therapist and individual can also create pieces of music to describe milestones within the therapy process. These songs can be reviewed when appropriate and shared with the individual’s support network to stay connected with their sense of self but also as a tool to reflect on accomplishments. (Calson 1997)

Jim Duvall (2014), refers to moments of unknown material coming to an individual’s awareness during a narrative therapy session “Ah-Ha moments”. Similarly the music product within a music therapy session reflects the inner most world of the individual unveiling unconscious material. “Art can have a powerful effect on clients by helping them evoke hidden aspects of themselves. Explain themselves in their own personal way and enhance self expression.” Whether personal identity conclusions are discovered through language or music, the integration of music and narrative therapy allows for rich story development according to an individual’s preferred identity claims.

Austin, D. (2008). The theory and practice of vocal psychotherapy: Songs of the self. London, NI and Philadelphia. PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Carlson, T. (1997). Using Art In Narrative Therapy: Enhancing Therapeutic Possibilities. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 271-283.

Duvall, J., & Bres, L. (2011). Innovations in narrative therapy: Connecting practice, training, and research. New York: W.W. Norton.

Duvall, J. (2014). Narrative Therapy Extern Program Lecture. Presented at the Hincks-Delcrest Institute.

Hudson, M. (2008). Art Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and the Comic Format: An Investigation of the Triadic Synthesis. Research Paper in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies.

Rittich-Haber, E. (2015) Narrative Therapy Extern Program Lecture. Presented at the Hincks-Delcrest Institute.

Young, K. (2014-2015) Narrative Therapy Extern Program Lectures. Presented at the Hincks- Delcrest Institute.

White, M. (2007). Maps of narrative practice. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.