Typically when people come to therapy, they’re looking for some sort of changes in their life. In my previous post, I wrote about curiosity and acceptance and how they can lead to change within therapy. In this post, I’m going to talk more about change and how music therapy can help with creating change.
What Change Is
Change means something new or different. This can be exciting or it can be terrifying. It can be something that you initiate and have some control over. Yet sometimes it just happens and you can’t control it.
Because of this, change isn’t always easy, nor fun. But as the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.”  There is no getting around it because just by being alive, things are changing.
Time in and of itself involves change because as Jim Morrison in The Doors’ sings in Break On Through (To the Other Side), “The day destroys the night. Night divides the day.” Or, as George Harrison sings in All Things Must Pass, “Sunlight doesn’t last all morning.” The seasons change.
And with the changing of the seasons, we also get older. We grow. Our bodies change. We get wiser. Our needs and desires change. We have to adapt to our unique situations and life circumstances at whatever phase of life we’re at.
Change Comes in Different Forms and Can Affect Us Differently
This means that change can look different for people based on who they are and what they’ve been through. These things contribute to how a person experiences change.
For example, someone who grew up in a stable, loving home will likely navigate change differently from someone who didn’t. They may feel confident that they’ll be able to make it through. It may be easier for them to tolerate the stress, worry, and fear that can come with change. They may have the necessary resources to be able to make it through or to make a plan to make it through.
Whereas for someone who didn’t experience these things, or didn’t experience them consistently, change can feel harder to navigate. It may even be harder to navigate as a result of these earlier experiences.
Areas Where Creating Change Can Happen
Likewise, there are different areas in your life where change can occur. Such changes can be through choices you consciously make. But they can also occur without your consent and over time you need to find ways to recover, heal and/or adapt from them. These areas include your:
- Relationship to yourself and others
- Sense of purpose/life direction
- Health – mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual
There are times when change can be easy to embrace. But there are times when it isn’t. It can sometimes be hard to accept change because it’s unfamiliar and scary. Sometimes it might even be hard to admit that something even needs to change.
Sources of Opportunities for Creating Change
Opportunities for creating change in our lives come from a variety of sources. You outgrow a relationship or your partner leaves. There may be a death or health scare that shakes you up. You may decide to leave your job, change careers, or go back to school. In some cases, you may have no choice but to leave your job or start over in a new career.
Creating change is a process. It takes time and effort. An event or events prompting change may happen immediately. However, the adaption, growth, resiliency, and strength developed through change does not. These things come through the process of getting to know yourself and your needs better.
Recognizing When It’s Time for Creating Change
Sometimes change is very specific and clear. Something in your life has to change and you need to take action. For example, you may have outgrown certain relationships or situations. Your health – physical, mental, and emotional – may require you to create some sort of change.
In other instances, you may not recognize a deeper desire for something to change in your life. Yet when a life-changing event occurs, you later see that something did need to change. Sometimes things happen in life to help you get back on track and to get out of a rut.
Still, in other cases, change isn’t something that was wanted, nor is it seen as obviously needed. Yet, here you are faced with having to adapt and change. Your life may have felt like it fell apart and now you’re sorting out the pieces.
When change is something that we initiate, it can be easy to feel inspired and motivated. Initially, at least. Sustaining change for the long haul can be hard. Likewise, creating change can be incredibly hard if it’s not something you’re wanting to do.
A Framework For Creating Change: The Stages of Change
This is where the stages of change can be helpful. It is a model introduced by alcoholism researchers, Carlo C. DiClemente and J. O. Prochaska in the 1980s. It illustrates the 6 steps involved in change. I find it helpful in understanding the process of creating change in therapy. You don’t have to be in recovery for these stages to make sense in your own life.
The stages are:
- Relapse or Termination
In the pre-contemplation stage, you’re not thinking about creating change. Within this stage are the “4 Rs.” These are: reluctant, rebellious, resigned, and rationalizing.
When a person is reluctant to change, they either don’t know or understand the impact of the problem. There’s a lack of knowledge or sense of inertia that leaves them not want to consider making a change.
A person with a rebellious attitude towards change doesn’t want to be told what to do.
Whereas when a person is resigned, they’ve “given up hope about the possibility of change.”  They may feel overwhelmed by the problem.
When a person is in a place of rationality, they have plenty of reasons for why they don’t need to change.
What is common to all of these is that a person isn’t going to make a change until they’re ready to.
With the contemplation stage, the person is “willing to consider the possibility that” change needs to happen.  This possibility “offers hope for change.”  However, a person at this stage is highly ambivalent. They’re not committed to change, but they want to know more. They are open to the possibility of change.
At this stage, a person may want to identify the pros and cons of their current behavior vs. the pros and cons of changing.
Preparation to Action/Determination
At this point, the person is deciding to change. They may still experience some ambivalence around making the change, but it’s not an insurmountable barrier to change. At this point, the person appears “ready and committed to action.” 
With this, there’s a time of preparation where the person needs to “make a realistic plan.”  This plan needs to involve anticipating problems or pitfalls that may come up for them along the way of creating change. Identifying concrete solutions should be part of this.
Action: Implementing the Plan
At this point, the plan for creating change is in practice. As the person starts to see success, they become more motivated and confident in their ability for creating change in their life.
With maintenance, a person can maintain the changes they’ve been making for a sustained time. New behaviors become self-sustaining. Through building new patterns of behavior over time, change is created. In my practice, it is at this time that people may only come to see me once a month to check in on how they’re doing.
Relapse or Termination
In my practice, I’m more likely to encounter termination, rather than relapse. This is because I don’t work specifically in treating substance abuse or addiction where relapse is an issue. Therefore when I encounter clients at this stage, they are ready to leave therapy. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they can’t ever come back. Sometimes people find it helpful to occasionally check in and get some outside emotional support.
How Music Therapy Can Support Creating Change
Now let’s look at how music therapy can help support creating change. I’ll use the first 5 stages as a way to frame how and why music might be used to address creating change at these stages.
Music can play a role in the pre-contemplation stage in a few ways. First, listening to music can provide a safe and non-judgemental way of approaching the subject of change. For example, song lyrics can introduce the idea of making a change in a way that feels non-threatening. This can be helpful for those who are experiencing “reluctance” or are otherwise “rebellious” to the idea of creating change.
Making music can help a person who feels resigned. This is because the act of making music is just that – an action. This activity can help a person to feel more energized and autonomous. They have some control over the sounds they’re making. The act of making music can spark new insights and connections due to the holistic neural impact of music.
The contemplation stage can also be addressed through listening to music. Song lyrics can provide a person with a sense of hope that they can change. Songs or particular artists can inspire dialogue about change and the benefits of making a change.
Song-writing can also be incorporated here. As a person thinks about the pros and cons of making a change, they can put their thoughts into musical form. This can help them to put their thoughts and feelings out in an externalized way. Doing this can promote further reflection.
Preparation to Action/Determination
At this stage of preparing to take action, music can be used as a source of motivation. Playlists may be created to support the drive to create change. Songs on these playlists may be inspiring or motivating.
As well, playlists can serve as a coping tool. Songs on these playlists can help a person cope with the feelings of fear or sadness that can come up from making changes. Music that the person deems to be relaxing can help a person manage feelings of stress that also can come up when making changes.
Additionally, making music can serve as a coping tool. When preparing to make a change, a person can get too caught up in their head. As a result, they may feel overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety or depression. Taking a moment to play and create can help alleviate this. When we deny ourselves the time for creative play our feelings can stay stuck inside. Making music can allow them to come out.
Songwriting can be a reinforcer for making change. With songwriting, a person can reinforce the changes they want to see. This can be done by creating personalized affirmations and motivating lyrics. By setting their words to music, the ideas can be further reinforced.
Action: Implementing the Plan
At this stage, music can be used in the ways mentioned in the previous stages. In a session, music is used however necessary for supporting continued change. We may process the experiences the person had with the music. With that, we may then explore how that applies to their current state of creating change.
At this stage, the person knows how to use music as a coping tool, a source of expression, and a motivator. They can use music in whatever ways they may need to maintain the change they want. As I mentioned earlier, it is at this stage that a person may no longer need to come to therapy as often, if at all. They have done their work and created the change they were seeking support around.
Next Steps for Creating Change in Your Life
While change can feel uncomfortable at times, it can also serve an important purpose. How you adapt to change can foster greater resiliency and strength. As well, change is a necessary part of our greater growth and development. Change happens simply because we age. Through change, we can gain wisdom, courage, strength, empathy, and grace.
If you’re feeling stuck and are wanting or needing a change in your life, music therapy can help. Contact me to schedule an initial free 15-minute online or phone consultation. You can schedule here.