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Music Therapy and Substance Use: A Q&A at The Prairie Recovery Center

JP Kendrick, LMSW sees music as a universal way to express oneself and connect with others. In this Q&A, he sheds light on music therapy, which he facilitates as a trained clinician at The Prairie Recovery Center to help clients process their feelings and experiences and express them in a healthy way, gaining insight, perspective, catharsis, joy, release, mindfulness and more. Read on for a course in music therapy, including its many benefits.

"The importance of music is the same importance that applies to all art … that allows someone to tell their story in a way that others can feel and identify with.”

Q: What, do you believe, is the importance of music

A: I’ve been a working musician for a long time, and to me, it goes much deeper than a hobby. The importance of music is the same importance that applies to all art. It’s a tangible record of someone’s experience, told in a compelling way that is-on some level-understandable to anyone. Its meaning is interpretive, and its value is relative to the individual listening. From the creative perspective, in this case a songwriter, it’s an outlet that allows someone to tell their story in a way that others can feel and identify with. It allows for a connection to exist between the songwriter and listener that can transcend time and distance.


Q: What is music therapy? How is it unique?

A: Music therapy can look like a thousand different things. It can be playing simple rhythms on a percussion instrument to practice mindfulness and connection with others, or it can be writing a song in order to process and tell part of one’s story in a meaningful way.

One thing that is unique about music therapy is the broad spectrum of methods and specific contexts for which it can be used. Music can be used therapeutically without playing an instrument or writing a song, too. It might be recalling a song that really lends itself to one’s narrative as a way to connect to the difficult part of that narrative meaningfully and with intention. The music, rather the emotions conveyed by the music itself, can have a swaddling affect as someone revisits a difficult part of their life. Music, for some, is healing just because it’s music!

We understand more and more that addiction is a disease of isolation. Moving through the process together, and along the way, provides an opportunity to create together, as well as to notice the common threads that tie different people’s experiences together.”

Q: How can music therapy help clients dealing with substance use disorder?

A: The way that I go about it is to use songwriting in the group setting. We understand more and more that addiction is a disease of isolation. Engaging in a process that is foreign to the majority of people is difficult and can be intimidating. Moving through the process, together and diving deep into their own experiences along the way, provides an opportunity to create together, as well as to notice the common threads that tie different people’s experiences together. It’s connective. And connection is the opposite of, and antidote to, isolation.

Q: Can music therapy be beneficial in other situations as well?

A: Absolutely. Music therapists work with all populations. Since it is so adaptable, it can be used for a wide variety of mental health applications. 

Q: Does someone need to play an instrument, sing or write in order to participate?

A: None of these are required, generally speaking. The therapist may actually use simple instruments, like hand percussion or a recorder, and simple music that can be taught in a session. The process of creating music for people who don’t know how has to be retrofitted, which is where the therapist comes in. They provide, or work with someone who can, the music and musicianship, while guiding folks through the process of content creation.

“Creativity can be quite It is a representation of you and your world told in a way that only you can tell it.”

Q: What is the difference between someone listening to or writing music at home and working with a trained therapist?

A: Creativity can be quite cathartic and therapeutic, even when a therapist isn’t involved. It is a representation of you and your world told in a way that only you can tell it. What matters is that it’s meaningful to you in the end. Having someone who is psychotherapeutically trained to facilitate the process provides a way for the client to make meaning out of an experience that they otherwise might not. This just means that a therapist does what therapists do while making music at the same time! Being curious about clients’ experiences, thoughts and feelings inspires the client to explore things more deeply and helps guide the process along the way. 

Q: What are some of the benefits clients can experience from participating in music therapy? What might they gain?

A: Connection. Insight. Perspective. Catharsis. Joy. Release. Mindfulness. It’s really cool to think about creating something meaningful and beautiful out of one’s raw experience. 

Q: How is music therapy applied at The Prairie Recovery Center? What might a session look like for a client?

A: It’s a fun process we do in a group setting. At the end of each session, which takes a few hours, there is a finished song. Every bit of the content is provided from individual client experiences, spun together and set to music. They decide collectively what the musical feel of the song will be, the tempo, the key, and the style of music it represents.

Afterwards, my job is to take their words and retool them in a way that works in the song—this is the most difficult job for me in the process; it means finding a way to edit their words so that the exact meaning is represented authentically. I check in with them constantly throughout the process and invite them to correct me when I have it wrong. For each area of content, getting this part right is crucial to the meaning of the work for that particular client, so it’s a high point of focus.

As the content comes together, they work together to decide what content makes a verse, pre-chorus, chorus or bridge. We collaborate together on a melody, then a chord progression, and then it all gets assembled into a working song.

“Explore Someone, somewhere, sometime, has told your story and knows how you feel...”

Q: While it may not be the same as working with a trained therapist, is there a way people can experience some of the therapeutic effects of music at home?

A: YES! EXPLORE FEARLESSLY AND UNAPOLOGETICALLY! Make a habit of listening to music you’ve never heard before. Chances are, in this day and age of immediate accessibility and self publishing, that just about anyone can seek out and find their musical spirit animal. Someone, somewhere, sometime, has told your story and knows how you feel, and you’ll feel that when you hear the right song.

One thing that I like to do is notice the details in the music and separate out sounds—isolate the bass or the drums in my mind and hear the nuance of what they are playing as part of the ensemble; sit with it and focus on these things as a way to focus the mind and promote mindfulness.

I also like to listen to music without any intention other than to enjoy it. It often has a meditative property for me, and time passes differently when I’m really caught up in a string of great songs. For me, it’s similar to watching a movie, and my imagination is activated as my mind creates images to fit the music and lyrics. I think everyone has their own relationship to music and the way it can represent parts of us in unique ways.

Reach out to our care team confidentially to learn how you or a loved one could benefit from the many kinds of treatment modalities at our unique, owner-run residential recovery center in the heart of the Texas Hill Country.