Monthly Archives: August, 2022

The Enduring Power of Music: Create A Playlist For Times When Words Fail by Gretchen Mahoney, LPCMH

Crushing betrayal that results in a break-up can be so painful that therapy alone doesn’t seem to bring relief. Your body hurts, your emotions course through you from head to toe. Shame and self-doubt take turns with rage and revenge.

You may experience complicated grief from a death which can be traumatic, sudden, or so stunningly difficult to accept. You can’t drag yourself out of bed, and you’re faced with all of your regrets and unspoken words. Your sadness feels overwhelming to yourself and others, so you hold it in. Hope of ever feeling better falters.

Or, you might be the family member ministering to a parent waning in the late stages of dementia or other illness which renders them unable to verbally communicate. You don’t know what to say or do to offer comfort as they slowly disappear.

Make a playlist.

Songs curated in a list that focuses on a specific emotional state can speak to a part of your nervous system that no words can reach. In any life stage,“music can play a crucial role to support people…from helping new-born babies develop healthy bonds with their parents to offering vital, sensitive, and compassionate palliative care at the end of life. Singing to new-
borns, a widespread activity practiced worldwide, has been demonstrated to have valuable benefits such as improving mother-infant interaction and reducing infant distress (Vlismas et al., 2013; Mualem and Klein, 2013a). In the same way, music has been reported as an aid in the reduction of anxiety and agitation in older adults with senile dementia (Sung et al., 2012).”
( ) And the therapeutic properties of music can help at any stage of life to process grief and traumatic pain.

How do you find the right songs? Turns out you can search on Google, Amazon, Spotify, etc for playlists for different circumstances. The trick, says therapist Courtney Armstrong, for making a playlist healing instead of heartbreaking, “is to start with 1 or 2 songs that reflect the your current emotional state, then add 3 or 4 songs that gradually move you towards your desired
emotional state.” Make a nice, long playlist that hits all four stages after a breakup: sadness, denial, acceptance, and moving on. The grieving soul finds connection with the many others in the world who have previously experienced these same overwhelming emotions.

One friend frequently shares with me worship songs that speak to her deep distress, but deeper hope in God and the future He promises. has a playlist of songs for encouragement and strength, as do many other sites. Songs can be consoling, yet lead toward strength and empowerment.

In the case of a screaming infant or a parent lost in dementia, simple is better. If you can’t come up with anything else, “Happy Birthday” will do! In the age of smart phones, you can pull up children’s songs or old favorites such as “You Are My Sunshine”, “Jesus Loves Me” or “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (Beatles). What may await you will surprise you with joy, if your loved one,
who cannot utter a word, suddenly finishes the last rhyming word of a song with you!

When words don’t get you anywhere, a tune may. In the sadness, sorrow or silence, your playlist may just be the best opportunity to feel your most vulnerable feelings, find strength in a seemingly hopeless situation, or offer comfort to a completely powerless loved one.

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