March 29, 2018

The Power of Songwriting in Recovery - Haleigh Beaird

I want to share with you all the POWER of songwriting.

In the last few weeks, I have been meeting with my inpatient/outpatient therapy groups and we have started a segment on songwriting. This is something I love to do with my patients for many reasons.

In treatment, patients can experience fatigue from intensive group and individual therapy sessions throughout the day. I have seen firsthand how this fatigue in my patients can turn into resistance and a complete shutdown of communication. While going through treatment, the treatment team thinks it is very important to keep communication open and fluid. This allows your mind and body to work together. Songwriting can help to facilitate this relationship.

The benefits of songwriting

Songwriting on your own can be extremely cathartic and beneficial but doing it as a group can have HUGE impacts. A group songwriting session can be beneficial when you have a group with a lot of new people or when a lack of communication is happening. The writing experience allows for members to have an outlet to speak passionately about things going on and, without even knowing it, find common ground to communicate with one another.

Group songwriting activities offer many different benefits and can help the following group dynamics grow:
  • Expression
  • Communication
  • Relationship building
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Letting go of control
  • Creativity
  • Freedom
Many members in my groups, and a lot of people in general, are artistic and creative, whether it is musically or in other ways. Songwriting is a great outlet for this creativity.

Songwriting as a group

When I want to set up a group songwriting session, I break the main group into smaller groups consisting of 3 to 4 people. I find that you need enough voices to get the creativity ball rolling, but not too many opinions that someone gets left out (can you say bad memories of high school group projects?) Typically, the groups are divided among rooms, so they can have their own space to freely write without the distractions of the other groups.

After dividing the groups up, I give them each a writing prompt. This can either be a certain emotion I want them to write about, such as anxiety or confidence. Or it can be something a little less vague — such as their biggest fear or their own personal journey with the eating disorder. One of my favorite things to do is to give all the groups the same prompt — without the other groups knowing. This is a chance to see how each group can be individually creative and how everyone interprets experiences differently.

Lastly, I go over the “requirements” of their song: 1) it must have words and 2) it must be at least 30 seconds long. I also provide a cart full of various instruments for them to accompany themselves during their songs. And that’s it! I want the songwriting time to be theirs — with no boundaries, no structure, and no restrictions.

Once the members begin writing their songs together, a beautiful thing happens. Most of the time, they begin to realize that they have similarities in their journeys or in their emotions with their recovery. This experience allows them to open up in a way that doesn’t make them feel vulnerable because they are all working and putting their emotions into one outlet, versus them proclaiming everything in front of the group by themselves.

After the songwriting experience is complete, I have all the groups meet back into the main room and we begin sharing their songs. This is my favorite part, because, without a doubt, each group’s presentation always amazes me and each group always comes up with a completely different interpretation of the prompt I gave them.

I have had groups in the past that have rapped, chanted, done drumming circles, sang, played guitar/ukulele, and so much more. I have also had groups reenact an emotion as if they were experiencing it at that very moment.

It is a very inspiring process to watch because, just for a moment, the group breaks away from being in recovery and loses themselves to enjoy the beautiful creative thing they have made together. They also forget about the stresses they had before they came into the group and are able to enjoy a minute of freedom and expression.

Songwriting in a therapy setting

After each group is done sharing their songs, we process the songwriting experience. Group members share their feedback about the experience. Some of the many benefits that my former therapy group participants have cited include:
  • Reduced anxiety/stress
  • Feelings of freedom
  • Having fun
  • Open communication
  • Trying something they never had before
  • Getting out of their comfort zone
How about you? Have you ever written a song before? Most people think that it is harder than it actually is, but the wonderful thing about songwriting is… there are NO rules! It is your chance to create whatever you want and to write down feelings you may be going through. I encourage you all to individually, or with a peer, try writing a song.

Here are some prompts to help you come up with your own songwriting ideas:
  • What does anxiety or depression sound like to you?
  • What is your biggest fear?
  • When you imagine confidence, what do you see?
  • What does control sound like?
  • What has your journey and recovery been like?
These are all prompts that I have given my group members that have been well received and have been beneficial to their recovery process.

Songwriting is such a powerful tool because it allows for expression and creativity. If you decide to write a song, we would love to hear it! Please feel free to share it over on the Eating Recovery Center Facebook page.

As always, thanks for reading and have a great day!

If you would like to learn more about music therapy and how it is used in the eating disorder recovery process, please feel free to click here to read my last blog post: How Music Therapy Supports Eating Disorder Recovery and Mental Health Treatment.

haleigh beaird music therapy recoveryAbout Haleigh Beaird, MT-BC: I am a Board-Certified Music Therapist that currently works in the Dallas, Texas area with many different populations. Throughout the week, I meet with a wide variety of clients and use music to create clinical and evidence-based interventions that help address their individualized goals. I have been practicing music therapy for a year and a half, but just joined the Eating Recovery Center team back in June of 2017. My experience at the facility so far has taught me quite a bit and I am hoping to share music strategies with you all periodically that can help aid you through your recovery process. 
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