Welcome to the month of May! Usually we post our Theme/Interview on the first, but we wanted to dedicate our first week of the month to my co-author, Becky, and her birthday!
For the rest of the month, we will be focusing on music and relationships. I chose this theme because on the 25th is my Wedding Anniversary (2 Years!!!) so I wanted to take a closer look at how music functions in relationships and how that is approached in a clinical setting. This brings me to our interview for this month:
Allison Rayburn, MT-BC, MMT, MA is a Board-Certified Music Therapist and is a provisionally licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She was drawn to a career in music therapy in high school after speaking with her guitar teacher about her interest in studying Music as well as Psychology. Her guitar teacher happened to be a music therapist (what are the odds?!) and pointed her in the right direction. Allison obtained her Bachelor Degree in Music Therapy at Appalachian State University. She described the program as a “diverse education”, due to the “many professors with different backgrounds, providing a variety of models for the students.” She completed her Internship in Northern Virginia at an elementary school with a center for kids with emotional needs (her dream population). “It was a great experience, but I felt really frustrated because I only had access to the kids from 9 to 3.” Recognizing that she needed access to the families in order to provide the most help for her clients, Allison went back to ASU and obtained a double masters (in only 3 years!) in Music Therapy and Marriage and Family Therapy. After working for a year as a Music Therapist in the school systems there, she is now working towards her Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy at Florida State University.
Despite pursuit of higher education in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy, Allison still functions as a Music Therapist in her clinical sessions. Her clients are aware of her dual certification, and she actively looks for ways to use music in her sessions. “I consider myself a buy one get one free. My hope is to do a dissertation in creating a bridge between Family Therapy and Music Therapy in working with families and children involved with the foster care system.”
I found Allison’s level of motivation and creativity in both areas of clinical study inspiring. It can’t be easy to be fully committed to 2 different areas of study and seamlessly knit them together in clinical work. She attributes her success to a good support system in both fields, including continued support from her Music Therapy advisor at ASU. She reiterated many times that Appalachian State University is an amazing and supportive environment to study music therapy. You can check out the school website here: http://music.appstate.edu/academics/undergraduate-degrees/music-therapy.
Keeping in mind her diverse clinical expertise, my interview with Allison focused on her experience with married couples. Allison has served diverse age groups, ranging from High School to mid-50s. “It depends on who walks through the door and what facility I’m in. The individual needs come first, what they determine their goals to be, if they are struggling with something… You approach it differently depending on their developmental level and wherever they are at that day.”
I asked Allison how she incorporates music into treatment.
“I use music whenever i sense it needs to happen; whether they bring it up, encounter resistance, whether music can be supportive of their expression or receiving of feelings. There are times when the need emerges; a song pops into my head or they say something that captures something that a song could deliver differently. A lot of times, when there is that dysfunction or that challenge in a marriage, music can help carry it in a better way so that their partner can hear it. Or even carry both of them, move forward in a way that they wouldn’t have access to if they didn’t use music.”
I would like to take a moment here to discuss music and relationships a little deeper. A few months ago, I was having a conversation with my husband about how we don’t have a special song that is “our song”. When it comes to recreational music listening, our taste in music overlaps in some areas, but is mostly different. However, we are both musicians and we met in music school, so music is still something that unites us. It functions in our marriage as something we both seek greater understanding of. We often analyze what we hear on the classical radio station or discuss what we remember from Music History about particular eras and composers. It is something that keeps us grounded when our lives are changing. Currently, he is working in a military field band and I am a stay at home mom, so the way we spend our time is very different, sometimes creating a disconnect in our relationship. At these times, our interest and study of music acts as common ground where we can relate to each other. We also like to play our primary instruments for each other, seeking input on different aspects of our playing. In those instances, it helps that we received our musical training from the same school and strive to apply similar philosophies in our playing. Music is extremely important to our relationship, even though we do not have a particular romantic song that is “our song”.
After realizing this about my own marriage, I became curious about how music functions in other marriages, and whether other married musicians have a special song that unites them.
A summary of my findings are as follows:
Out of 39 participants in my survey,
51.3% identify as musicians and 26.3% identify their significant other as a musician.
92.3% associate music with autobiographical experiences (not including their significant other) and 89.7% associate music with experiences within their relationship
51.3% say they enjoy different music than their significant other but 46.3% say their interests overlap
35.9% identify a particular song as “our song”: within their relationship and 12% say they have in the past but do not now.
I found it surprising that less than half of my participants have a particular special song in their relationship. However, due to the fact that more than half of my participants identify as musicians, it is yet to be determined whether having a special song is more prevalent among couples who are not musicians.
Further findings indicate that more participants identify music as holding recreational value within their relationship than sentimental value. I found this result surprising as well.
At the end of the survey, I left a blank space to allow participants to comment freely on music in their relationship. The following are some of the functions of music described by participants:
▪ Facilitating dancing, which encourages intimacy
▪ Entertainment (for the couple as well as the rest of the family)
▪ Comedic enjoyment
▪ Spirituality/Religious experience
▪ Expression of feelings/moods
▪ Soundtrack for recreational and intimate activities
▪ Reminder of age difference in the relationship
The biggest thing I take away from this study is that music can hold many different levels of significance in a relationship. It is important to strive to understand this aspect of your clients, as the function of music can have a huge effect on how you approach treatment.
Music Therapy Clinical Implications
What role can music play in Marriage Therapy?
Allison finds that her clients “use music more for the tougher and more vulnerable emotions. They have songs that support them through the challenges: feeling abandoned, worrying that their partner is being unfaithful, (etc). I use more songs along those lines than in the comfortable realm. Music can express all types of emotions. But clients who are seeking out services are trying to heal relationships that have injury. They use music to express the things they don’t have the words for.”
When approaching a music therapy session with a married couple, here are some things to keep in mind:
“Everything is a metaphor. Marriage and Family Therapy is a systemic therapy, kind of like Carolyn Kenny’s Field of Play. So you look at it as everything you do is reflective of the system. I keep in mind, who is participating more, whatever skills they are working on, see if we can find ways in music to challenge the norm. At the same time, understanding it’s their relationship, their song, and they have to do what works for them. It provides an opportunity for them to play with typical comforts and step outside the box.”
Since Marriage Therapy treats 2 people, it is possible that one may present as more open for change than the other. “I consider it representative of the relationship, as the relationship is the client. The dynamics of the pursuer and withdrawer. We hope that in therapy they can find a new balance. That doesn’t mean equal, but reaching a healthy balance for them. But if they are not invested to the point where they don’t seek change, that may be reflective of how they are able to change in their relationship. Withdrawing is based off fear. You have to get creative and explore ways they may be more comfortable and open to engaging in different ways.”
Intervention #1 – Lyric Analysis
Music can be an amazing way to communicate when other avenues are not working. However, finding a song that can capture the relationship can be difficult, and may require help from the facilitator.
”They will oftentimes bring in songs to represent themselves individually, and potentially their relationship. But if they get stuck on that, I will bring in a song that represents how i see them interacting. So oftentimes I’ll pick out duets, or I’ll pick out songs that deal with some of the struggles that maybe their partner has learned to tune out. And i will share that song as a reflection, not necessarily to tell them this is who you are, but to give them something else to resist or relate to or challenge. That element of vulnerability invites them to be more open in how they share whitely music can simultaneously soothe their anxiety. Another way of providing feedback and getting a response that is different.”
Intervention #2 – Songwriting
It is difficult to provide a step by step approach to songwriting because the method can vary considerably depending on a number of factors contributed by the individuality of the client(s) and therapist(s). But here are a few steps/considerations Allison offered that are often decided with the clients.
1. Assess the level of support they need, how much participation they can tolerate. Always set them up for success.
2. Determine what musical components are preferred: live instrumentation or karaoke style, for instance. Determine how much vulnerability they can handle, musically.
3. Decide whether to start with words or music.
4. Decide whether to use a familiar song, or write a whole new song from scratch.
5. Always keep in mind this is their song
“Bring them options, give them control on however they want their relationship to be reflected. Help them problem solve with each other because how they interact and make these choices can be reflective of their relationship. Depending on how comfortable they are and how much they want to throw out, I only provide as much help as needed. After they feel comfortable with a few choices, they will probably take the reigns. Something that is really important is giving them a copy of the song to help it transfer outside of the therapy room”
Songwriting can be a daunting task, but like any other music therapy techniques, it will come easier with practice.
My original intention for this month’s repertoire theme was Top 10 Love Songs. However, Allison informed me that most songs used in Marriage Therapy are not love songs, at least not until the end of Therapy.
Client preferred music is best, so Allison uses relatable genres to the clients’ taste. For this population, it is extremely important that the music is easily understood and relate able. Songs that Deal with a lot of the drama and feelings that are real life for them: attachment, fears of abandonment, fears of not being heard, etc.
“I use a lot of Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, common songs people likely have heard. These are great because there is not a lot of reading between the lines. They use very direct metaphors. I use duets when possible. The couple is the client. You don’t have 2 individual clients, you’re treating the relationship. Having the harmonies and singing back and forth addresses relational challenges.”
Allison has a great method for gathering repertoire. Since she needs to use songs that address very specific emotions and situations, she keeps a list going on her computer of different feelings listed with songs that match that feeling, adding songs as she hears them on the radio.
Here are some of her more commonly used songs:
I love the Way You Lie – Rihanna and eminem
Picture – Kid Rock and Sheryl Crowe
Run – Snow Patrol
Lean on me – Bill Withers
I need you now – Lady Antebellum
Slow dancing in a burning room – John Mayer
Stand by me – Ben E. King
I won’t give up – Jason Miraz
Make this go on forever – Snow Patrol
Love Song – Sara Bareilles
Just the Way You Are – Billy Joel
Breakable – Ingrid Michaelson
“It’s interesting to hear different people’s reactions. It’s not about telling them what’s right or wrong, It’s all about breaking them out of their rut with how they are expressing themselves. Oftentimes it’s the same repeating patterns that’s keeping them where they are. It becomes an interruption into their usual way of functioning. It provides a shift in meaning, supports them in moving a way they wouldn’t be able to move without music. Showing each other affection through music can mean more to a person because they can take it with them.”
Intervention # 3 – Taking the Music With Them
One of the great things about Music Therapy is you can teach your clients to generalize their success to the rest of their life by taking the music with them. The music you work on in Therapy can become a new symbol/expression of your relationship that carries you through hard times.
“I encourage them to use music when they are stuck. So instead of having the same argument, use it as a letter. Let the music speak for how they are feeling. Whether it is sending their spouse a cute song at work, or using a song instead of fighting. Using it to re engage because oftentimes its the misconnection thats causing the stress. They are expressing themselves but they are not having any relief. So a lot of times the music can serve as that cathartic experience that can help them find each other again. Its a way of creating natural vulnerability.”
I love that: Natural Vulnerability.
So there you have it. There is an amazing compatibility between the fields of Music Therapy and Marriage/Family Therapy, and I have been so inspired by Allison’s work and her passion for these fields of study. I hope you have been inspired as well!
We will start our Song of the Week posts this week, and spend the rest of May learning some of the songs from the repertoire list above. Then on May 25th (my wedding anniversary!), I will be posting an original song I am working on.
Hope you are all enjoying the Spring!