Often, during the course of therapy with my clients, I will refer them to a song to express something that we’ve been working on. As I think most of us can relate to, music is such a powerful medium to express emotion, and often the lyrics combined with an emotion-inducing melody not only can best capture an individual’s experience, but it also has the potential to move them forwards. Somehow it can just make everything click into place. I’m sure many of you can think of difficult times in your life where a particular song just resonated and somehow got you through.
Earlier this morning, I was listening to the radio and a song came on that reminded me of one of my clients. I quickly emailed her the song and my reasoning behind the suggestion, and I thought, I should start keeping track of these songs to help other clients in the future. And what better way to do that than to incorporate it as a blog post, right?
So here it is… or at least the start of it as these are the songs that came to mind off the top of my head as being useful in a mental health context. Not just because they are great songs, but because I feel they capture something truly therapeutic within them. I’d love to hear any reactions to these or suggestions of other songs that have been particularly helpful in tough times.
Just as an aside, I’ve included youtube links to videos because that’s the only way I can think of for you to hear the whole song for free, but unfortunately in most cases the videos don’t really relate to the lyrics, so I’d recommend listening without watching the videos.
Songs for Good Mental Health
- Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It – Stars. I work with so many clients who struggle with jealousy or trust issues in their relationships. In so many of these cases, the client is actually in a wonderful relationship with a very trustworthy partner, but s/he is caught up with doubt and fear that the other person will leave. So s/he is constantly seeking reassurance that the partner is not out doing something that will lead the partner to leave, but this only makes him/her feel more and more untrusting and more and more cautious about giving him or herself to the other person. The hardest thing for these clients to realize is that love is faith in the other person and that there are no guarantees with faith. I think this song captures so nicely the feeling of falling in love. Even in that expression, we “fall” in love, we let go, and we hope that the other person doesn’t let us crash. And we do sometimes crash, but we can only keep letting go with the next person. That’s the beauty and danger, but it’s worth the risk. There really isn’t any alternative. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9PYiIGAsM8&feature=kp
- Obsessions – Marina & The Diamonds. I love the way this song captures the back and forth voices in the head of someone struggling with obsessions or OCD, and the way emotions shift. You can especially feel the indecision when the singer is in the supermarket trying to choose what crackers to buy (punctuated even by whispers in addition to the main voices), and eventually giving up because the pressure is too much and the “crackers were probably bad luck anyway.” Really excellent. If Marina Diamandis does not have OCD herself, she intimately knows someone who does. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=np3QLrHJmRA&feature=kp
- Set It Free – Sarah Slean. I remember recommending this song to an smart, funny, likeable client I was working with who was having so much trouble moving forward through his depression and anxiety. No matter how much evidence we collected against his negative beliefs about himself, he was just mired by his negative core beliefs that he was a failure and no one anyone would like to be around. Because he still engaged in the behavioural strategies we talked about, it got to the point where his life was actually going really well, but he just couldn’t see it. He really needed to set the thoughts and feelings free. This song seemed to capture that perfectly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TZYa_0yJeA
- Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of – U2. This one personally helped me through a tough time in my early twenties. Reading the lyrics again, it’s not the kindest voice (haha, he does refer to the other person as a fool), but it helped put things in perspective for me at the time. Negative emotions are tricky because they have this ability to convince us that they’re here to stay, but if we can realize that we’re just “stuck in a moment,” we can allow them to be and they really do dissipate. Especially if we can also stop doing all those behaviours to fix things that really just make the situation worse. I didn’t know about mindfulness meditation at the time, but this is so relevant to that now, and no wonder I started feeling better soon after I realized that “this time will pass,” as Bono sings. Great song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emFUtuotHL4&feature=kp
- Oh Sailor – Mr. Little Jeans. On a similar note, this song talks about feeling alone but realizing that even when hope seems lost, there’s still so much opportunity to improve things. It reminds me of a point that Andy Puddicombe (@andy_headspace) makes in his Headspace guided meditations that calmness and clarity are always with us the way the sky above us is always blue. It just that sometimes we can’t see the blue sky because there are clouds in the way. This song makes the same point. “And if you’re tired of them breaking you into two, I hope you know that you can sail right home. I hope you know you’ve got the ocean blue.” Even when we feel completely stuck, we can still move. It’s incredibly hard to remember, and believe, that during intense times, but the more we recognize it, the easier it can be. Even if it just allows someone to stick it out for a few moments longer, that gives the opportunity for that emotion to shift and for them to have the change to feel better. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b88da_W9U7o&feature=kp
- Oh Father – Madonna. This is a blast from the past, but I think it’s a great song to capture some of the experience of past abuse and the way it can continue to affect an individual throughout his or her life. So much of the healing from past trauma is to be able to realize that you have escaped it, that you’re no longer in that threatening situation. This is the one video that actually relates to the lyrics (and as a disclaimer, it’s not the easiest video to watch), and in it, Madonna extends the song lyrics to show the common scenario where a child who was abused becomes an adult in another abusive relationship. But in the end she leaves with dignity. Recovering from trauma (and not repeating it) is no easy task, but it is absolutely possible, especially when we can see the strength we have and the options we have to move forward and grow in our lives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvVvN0QvzTk&feature=kp
- Waiting on a Sunny Day – Bruce Springsteen. Okay, so I thought I would end this list on an uplifting song. This is a great example of lyrics and music coming together to make one feel that there is hope, even if it seems like it’s raining. The lyrics refer to another person who helps the singer feel better but, again, I also read it as someone just holding out the hope that life will improve. As Springsteen sings, “Hard times, baby, well they come to us all. Sure as the ticking of the clock on the wall. Sure as the turning of the night into day,” but the weather will change eventually. We just have to stick it out. And the more that we can recognize that a rainy day is part of life and not indicative of us having done something “wrong” that needs to be corrected, the quicker that storm will pass. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvVvN0QvzTk&feature=kp