Music and Songwriting: Practical Tools for Mental Resilience

Music therapy is gaining traction, and for good reason. A recent article I read from Christina Caron in the New York Times delved into its practical application, illustrating how it transcends conventional therapy methods, offering a unique approach to mental health challenges.

It's about time.

I talked about the phenomena of how music and songwriting helped me significantly with my mental, emotional, social and neurological health in my TEDx Talk last year. Granted, when I was a kid: there wasn't a global pandemic, but trauma is trauma, and for me: that looked like having had ten brain surgeries by the time I was ten.

If you missed it: here's the official TEDx video:

Yep. Drawing from personal and professional experiences, I can attest to the tangible benefits of integrating music and songwriting into mental health strategies, particularly for teens in 2023 navigating the aftermath of the pandemic.

My personal journey with music as a therapeutic tool wasn’t just fun past time: it was a necessity, and a survival mechanism to combat the harsh realities of bullying, abuse, and medical adversities. It wasn’t even about trying to become the next young pop sensation, or trying to impress my friends: writing my own songs was all about attempting to effectively understand, process and communicate about my trauma and stress.

Songs like Soon [written when I was fourteen to understand love and heartbreak], Barbed Wire [written when I was fifteen after a traumatic assault], and Dear Me [written at 22 about suicidal ideation]... music has always been a lifeline for me.

Which is why, four years ago [before the, I expanded my 18year business as a vocal coach to established Youth Empowerment through Songwriting [YES] coaching. The goal has always been straightforward: equip individuals with a reliable tool to manage and articulate their mental struggles. Working primarily with teens, the emphasis is on making the process accessible, supported, and directly beneficial, ensuring that it serves as a functional resource in their mental health toolkit.

Of course, as Christina Caron mentioned in her article on "How Music can be Mental Health Care": it's crucial to know that musical proficiency isn’t a prerequisite for benefiting from music therapy. It’s about leveraging music as a medium to facilitate expression and processing of emotions and experiences. In practical terms, it’s about providing individuals with an alternative avenue to articulate their thoughts and feelings, circumventing the limitations of traditional verbal communication.

In other words: think of music as a security blanket that allows young adults to explore and express their feelings under the guise of "creative license". And as if the emotional benefits aren't enough: because it's done through music, the brains neurochemistry gets lit up as well, stimulating:

  • The nuccleus accumbens and amygdala: which helps with emotional reactions

  • The pre-frontal cortex: which is in charge of behavior, expression, and decision making

  • The hippocampus: which is in charge of music memories, experiences and context

In other words: when a young person is given music as a tool to express themselves: with the right coaching and support, they can cognitively reframe disempowering experiences or thoughts into powerful anthems that can serve them positively well into the future.

Research from the National Library of Medicine, The University of Melbourne, Psychology Today, The American Psychiatric Association, and Harvard University supports the efficacy of music therapy, highlighting its capacity to complement conventional mental health treatments. It’s not about choosing music over medication or therapy; it’s about integrating various approaches to enhance overall mental resilience. Music and songwriting offer a dynamic, engaging way to navigate mental health challenges, promoting self-awareness and coping strategies.

Community engagement through music also presents practical benefits, fostering a supportive environment that enhances the therapeutic process - even when it comes to social media. In fact, I've found that when my clients write, perform, and record their songs and share their lyrics with their peers on TikTok and Instagram: the content of their lyrics can completely reconfigure the algorithms of these platforms to start pushing out positive and empowering content.

Which is revolutionary, considering the significant increases in mental health struggles as a result of social media and Gen Z's addiction to doom scrolling.

When young people can start using their music and creative expression to cognitively reframe their trauma, struggle and overwhelm into resilience, confidence, and healing: music stops being simply about individual expression but also about cultivating a sense of belonging, mutual understanding, and redesigning the echo chamber that is social media: all of which are essential components of mental well-being.

Music and songwriting are practical and effective additions to mental health strategies, offering a versatile, accessible means to enhance resilience and coping mechanisms for our teenagers. Their integration into therapeutic approaches is not just artistically enriching but also functionally beneficial, promoting tangible improvements in mental health outcomes that young adults can retain well into the future.

If you want to know more about how to help your teen to turn their anxiety into anthems of healing, resilience and mental health and wellness: I invite you to grab a copy of my new interactive workbook: From Pain to Playlist - Turning Struggles into Song on Amazon here, or if you're looking for more information or support, CLICK HERE to book your no-obligation, free discovery call to discuss more about where you and your teen are, and how music and songwriting can help their journey to mental wellness.

I look forward to speaking with you soon,

~ Emma G

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