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What does it mean to say a song can heal, that music can heal?

All of us carry emotional wounds that cannot be seen from the outside.  For some of us these wounds go beyond the merely emotional to the traumatic. While post traumatic stress first came into the lexicon through discussions of the after effects of military service or high stress jobs like police work, firefighting, and EMTs, the fact of the matter is post traumatic stress effects many people with no connection to stressful work.  Accidents, assaults, a sudden unexpected death, and verbal and/or physical abuse – all of these and many other tragic life events can result in post traumatic stress.

Healing from traumatic or emotionally upsetting events is a process. Before one can begin to heal one has to be able to acknowledge the pain. Often, before that can happen, the pain itself has to find a way to penetrate the walls of defense the wounded one has erected for protection.

This is where music and a song can become particularly effective.  We all know from our own personal experience that a song can change our moods. If you’re feeling down and your favorite song comes on the radio you might suddenly find your day seeming a bit brighter. Conversely you might be having a great day and then a song comes over the store speakers reminds you of her.  Instant melancholy.


A Deeper Level

What I’m talking about here is something that goes to a deeper level. It is something that can be accomplished with the intentionality of the lyric. Healing songs specifically target an issue or emotion with words designed to resonate with a lived experience. The response elicited can be literally breathtaking. As in, “Oh my gosh, that’s me!”

When a song mirrors someone’s pain with authenticity it expresses something for them for which they may not even have had words. It expresses the inexpressible.  And when that happens something opens up.

Many therapists have told me that our songs create breakthrough for their clients. But I like what pastor Dr. Dan Moseley told me when I was just beginning the ministry of Music for the Soul. “You must be careful to melt walls of defense and not blow them up.”

Once a song has melted the walls that’s when the healing work can begin. A message that was previously met by hardened heart is now being heard by a heart that has been softened and opened. When combined with a melody and rhythm that lyric, and therefore the healing message, has an exponentially better chance of being remembered.


Making messages stick

Have you ever wondered why advertisers use jingles?  Or why we teach the ABC’s with a song? Because people remember far more of what they hear in song than what they read or what they are told. Healing songs make messages stick.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned that trauma is processed primarily in the right hemisphere of the brain.  Once I found that out it all made sense. That’s because melody is also processed primarily in the right hemisphere of the brain. It follows then, that healing music, and in particular healing songs which engage the left brain language processing skills, should be so wonderfully effective in helping people process their pain.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Music also engages the limbic system of the brain where it is processed at the speed of light to “fast track” emotions.[1] That’s why therapists tell us our songs can accomplish in just moments results that would take months of talk therapy to achieve!

Karl Paulknack, concert pianist and dean of music for Ithaca College in New York says, “I’m not just an entertainer. I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker.”

I believe he is right.








[1] [1] This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitan, Dutton 2006

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