Music Therapy for Coping with Grief

If you have suffered enough in life, you will look for ways to cope that are different from the efforts that haven’t worked for you in the past. For some, going to a counsellor is a new experience that they never would have tried before substantial suffering. People attempt many different things to cope and this includes when feeling overwhelmed by grief.

Grief Coping Strategies

Some people write letters to those they have lost. Some create or renew ceremonies to remember the person lost. Some want to speak to lost loved ones. There are many things possible. Some sing. While I have never sung to a lost loved one (yet), I have certainly spoken to them. One of the many things I love about Narrative Therapy is Re-membering – an attempt to re-integrate the lost person into our lives, rather than attempting to “move on” without them.

Singing to Those Lost

While this may seem a novel approach to grieving, actually it is not. We have screamed, sang, cried, wailed and expressed ourselves verbally in grief since before we were human. Other mammals do this too – a mother cow will bellow for her calf for days, for instance. OK, so we have sang for a long time, but is there any research behind it?

Research into Singing as Grief Therapy

Is it researched? The short answer is “yes”. Providing only one example, a screenshot from an article about teens grieving through music follows. Googling this article will take you down many paths, if you wish to pursue this topic further.

Grief Therapy Through Song
Grief Therapy Through Song

Grieving Through Song

Music therapy for grief can follow the grieving process (as mentioned in the research cited above), or it can be part of a ceremony, such as Re-membering in Narrative Therapy. What works for you can be determined through your own self-help efforts, or can become part of therapy.

Other Therapeutic Uses for Song

Who of us hasn’t listened to music when we were sad – or perhaps become sad by listening to music? Once, I had an especially terrible week where everything that could have gone wrong seemed to. I found myself alone, as my son was staying with his mum. A gloom settled over me that I hadn’t felt in the many years since the end of my marriage. I needed something, so I picked up my guitar and sang to myself. It was incredibly therapeutic and helped me settle my mind. One of the goals of counselling is to learn coping strategies and I realised that I had learned self-soothing, as I sang and played that cold night.

Saying What Needs to be Said

If you are deep in grief at the moment, you may want to hold off watching the video below until you are in a better place. This video touched me deeply, both as a son and father – and also because I lost one of my best friends within days of first seeing this video online. James is singing to his terminally ill father, who is sitting by his side. A very powerful way to use song in the grieving process!

Wellington Grief and Bereavement Therapy

When someone we love is gone from our lives, it can leave a massive emptiness which seems will never be filled. When someone we feel we should love (but do not) leaves, our feelings can include grief, guilt, relief and a lot of things we cannot process. It is not weakness to seek help. We are social beings and sometimes need someone upon whom we can lean.

If you are in Wellington and seeking grief and bereavement therapy, you might want to consider:

  • Do I need to go to therapy alone, or is this something that should be shared (e.g. if you have children who are also grieving, you might want to consider if they too would need to go to therapy with you)?
  • What are the differences in therapeutic approaches that might make a difference in how I continue on after this grief? Narrative Therapy, for example, has the concept of “Re-Membering”, in which the efforts are not on “moving past” the loved one, but valuing them in your life going forward.
  • Do I want a therapist who has a specific orientation to religion – for example, a religious or a secular therapist? Many therapists would never mention religion within therapy and if you want that, you need to be clear on this when seeking a therapist.
  • Should I wait until the loved one is gone to seek help? While some clients in Wellington will find bereavement and grief therapists after the death of a loved one, some will begin grief counselling before the death of a loved one, such as when a family member is terminally ill.

At Narratives Aotearoa Ltd, we counsel those in Wellington seeking grief and bereavement therapy in a secular environment, with our services focusing on the positive effects of the person in our lives (when that has been the case). We focus on re-membering the loved one, encouraging clients to reintegrate the lost significant other into their continuing lives.

It can be difficult to go on with our lives when someone we loved is gone. If you are in Wellington, contact us to see how we can help.

Welcome to 2020

Dostoyevsky was scheduled to die by firing squad, but was given a stay of execution at the last moment by the Tsar. This experience of believing himself dead and then realising he was again alive was a profound one for Dostoyevsky. I have some small glimpse into this feeling, as I emerge from a decade that brought the Christchurch earthquakes, the end of my married life and many other changes. I also feel joy at having experienced this decade.

As 2019 fell into the past, I speculated on life, my choices to date and what the future might hold. I realised that the greatest events of my life have been those surrounded by love. Nothing else endures. I had spent years trying to figure out the best way forward – when I was young, it involved notions of “strength” and when I was progressing through life, it involved illusions of “success”. Both were equally dead ends.

When we love others, we project our best selves into the world. I am not talking about those self-serving concepts of “love” in which the other person is used for our own gratification. I am referring to those moments where we try to put the needs of others before our own, where we attempt to step into their existence and understand where they are at any given moment (this is where the joy of being a counsellor arises). This is the greatest gift of our evolved brain – the imagination coupled with compassion that allows us to transcend our own selfish egos, even if briefly. The flip-side of this gift is the part of the psyche that focuses on the self at all costs.

As we move into this new decade, may we nurture the compassion and empathy in ourselves that allows us to transcend our own lives and make positive effects in the lives of others!

That your evolving narratives will bring you strength and joy!

Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns
Lee Jordan, MBA, MEd, MCouns