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How to start music therapy in rehab settings

By Christian Castell

The word “addiction” usually conjures up images of desperate people unable to cope with life. And the word “recovery” has a glowing image of hope and  love. My name is Christian Castell, a recovered alcoholic of 20 years. Six years ago I had an accident which meant a three month period in bed. I was presented with a guitar to ease my boredom and what followed is a life changing story.

Music as a release

Addiction is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s what we are addicted to which defines who we are. In my opinion, we all have addictions to lesser & greater degrees. For some, it is unfortunately mind altering substances which, at the time, seem like they are helping us cope with insecurity, self doubt & generally a fairly low self esteem.

I have learned that music and the ability to “pen” my fears, thoughts, emotions into melodic prose have given me an opportunity to help others who struggle with recovery. Recently, I presented a selection of songs which I have recorded & perform professionally, to the residents at the RAMOT rehabilitation facility in Cape Town South Africa. For 20 years I have had a desire to help others who suffer and at last I have found a way.

Music in a rehab setting

In rehab, the daily talks and group sharing can feel very mundane. Music is a powerful medium to connect with people. We learnt at RAMOT that lives were changed in 60 minutes. Questions from usually shy and insecure patients were endless. It is as though music brought down the “wall of shame” and opened the minds of normally self conscious, awkward people. But how can you begin to implement a program in a treatment setting?

7 ways to integrate music therapy into rehab

1. Relate.

Encourage patients to select music that they know has a connection to their life and explain how it has affected them.

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2. Discuss.

Select music from recovered well known songwriters and try to surmise what the lyrical content is portraying.

3. Make it live.

If possible, invite a local musician who has recovered from addiction to come and perform and explain his recovery journey specifically how music played a key role.

4. Integrate.

The facility could have playlists as background music which is relevant material for hope and recovery, there are many. The subconscious is a powerful tool. A facility could select one song as it’s Anthem.

5. Promote.

Encourage patients to follow musicians through digital media who have publicly been honest about their addiction. Eric Clapton is a fine example.

6. Practice.

Ask patients to express themselves in lyrical song form, the healing power of writing down our emotions is immeasurable.

7. Meditate.

Encourage patients to meditate to music, to actually listen to, not only the lyrical content, but also the emotion expressed through instrumentation.

What can happen through the power of music

Music immediately opens the mind through rhythm, emotion, and the content of the lyric is something which each person can interpret for their own life issues. There were tears at the end of the evening, at least four patients opened their hearts and sobbed uncontrollably, as though a heavenly spirit had touched them. I can remember that intense moment of release and realisation twenty years ago when I stopped drinking alcohol for the last time. My only desire is that maybe those few people had reached their realisation.

Listen to some examples

Introducing relevant “live” music to rehab facilities is something which I am going to pursue. The Jackanory Music Publishing web page will show you what this journey is about. Personally, I don’t wish to profit from helping people, but only wish that suffering people can take a moment to absorb the beauty of music and its ability to touch our souls. For example, listening to the story within a song is a key to releasing your demons and learning that there is at least one other person in this mad world who has shared the same pain and emotional torture that you, the listener unnecessarily has to endure.

A young Cape Town film maker was the person who realised our potential as a healing element and he is in the process of producing a full documentary on the healing power of music. “Beer On The Wall” is well worth a watch. It will show you that we are real people with a common goal to see the world as a better place, acknowledging that life is difficult, but together, clean and sober, we can all contribute and rediscover a value within ourselves.

One song you might enjoy…

The one song which was written specifically about my turn from an angry, frustrated drunk to a compassionate, peaceful and loving human being is “Apocalypse” a tune for us all.

If this short story helps in healing you, let me know, because that in turn continues to help heal me….a day at a time.

Photo credit: Open Clips

Leave a Reply

One Response to “How to start music therapy in rehab settings
Erin
10:54 pm November 24th, 2014

Hi Christian,
I appreciate reading about your experience. I am happy that you have found that music can help you in so many ways. I entirely agree that music is a powerful medium. I understand you’re in South Africa. As a writer from the United States, I do not know the answer to this question: Are there music therapists practicing in South Africa? If there are, have you ever reached out to one in order to help with rehabilitation?
Thank you, and good luck.

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