I began using music in my therapy practice during the time I was interning at a local mental health clinic. I was in charge of the Sober Events for the outpatients, many of whom suffered with various mood disorders (from depression and anxiety up to and including paranoid schizophrenia). We began an evening of Karaoke in which the patients got to pick and choose their own songs and perform them for the group. The events were so successful and so therapeutic that I have taken this work (what I now lovingly refer to as KARAOKE THERAPY) into other hospitals, schools, and clinics, including a weekly workshop at the VA with the Vets in the P.T.S.D. Wards.
I have used music and its soothing effects, as well as its ability to speak for those who have not yet found their own words, in all of my drug and alcohol work in the rehab centers I have facilitated at over the years.
It cannot be overestimated how powerful music is. Whether participating in a drum circle, singing a favorite old Motown song, or feeling the comfort of an ambient piece underneath a guided meditation, music has untold therapeutic effects on our brain and we are just beginning to understand how deeply so.
Harmony at the VA
I often refer to our class as “Karaoke Therapy,” for as one of the Vets came up to me afterwards said, “You know, Bradford, this is kind of like therapy for me.”
I smiled and asked, “How so?” and he replied, “Well, I sometimes come in feeling kind of blue, but we end up singing and joking and dancing around and I often walk out feeling better than I did coming in.”
“Well, that’s as good as it gets, sir.” I replied. “Thank you for sharing that with me.”
That is what makes volunteering here at the VA worth it for me. The harmony we create together in our class; not just the pitch perfect kind of harmony one needs in music appreciation, but the harmony that is created when a community comes together and learns to help each other and support each other through song, no matter what level of “singer” you are.
I have had the privilege of working in a couple of settings at the VA and it has never stopped amazing me how much music brings these vets together. We start playing some old Motown songs or any of their favorite old tunes, and the visceral memory of those bygone happier days begins to affect their mood and their bearing, and pretty soon, the stories start flowing, memories get shared, and a wonderful camaraderie is established.
This is what the harmony we practice at the VA offers our Vets. It is a joy to behold and I am so grateful to be able to be part of this experience.