The psychosocial benefits of songwriting
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
The healing effect of sharing through songwriting
by Ophelie Lawson on September 04
Most of us have experienced this phenomenon in our own life: whether it's the power of a song that brightens our day, makes us feel like we’re not alone, or describes our feelings better than put words in our emotions. Often, and especially when it comes to survivors of trauma, explaining things can be challenging and often lead to being misunderstood.
Over this summer, during the month of July, we offered a songwriting workshop in our community center Safe Place Greece. On the belief that the power of music would have the ability to positively impact our residents.
Unlike musical education or music therapy, a songwriting workshop is a combination of listening, playing, and writing. This process is intended to address a participant’s needs and to help them express emotions. Songwriting engages the writers in a creative process, through which they write songs addressing their personal feelings.
Adam, a volunteer affiliated with Humanity Crew, came to Safe Place Greece with a plan of running collaborative songwriting with our residents. He aimed to explore songs and sounds, bring together ideas of songwriting and poetry as a way of expressing emotions. Using his computer, he worked together to create music, choosing different sampling loops to put sounds together and create instrumentals. They next came up with lyrics as a group (with each person using their own language), and then intended to record the finished product.
When I first told Danela about this new workshop, she was really keen to the idea and could not wait for the first session.
Danela is a transgender woman from Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of 72 countries where same-sex sexual activity is illegal, and the level of discrimination, hate crimes, and abuses against LGBTQIA people is high and increasing.
During the first songwriting workshop, every time Adam would play a new loop, Danela’s eyes would brighten.
Over the month and a half that Adam spent with us, we could observe how significantly the songwriting and music-making process inspired Danela, and left a lasting impression on her confidence and attitude.
She told us that when she was young, she dreamed of becoming an artist.
“I want to empower LGBTQ people from my country with my music. I want to sing so that they know they are not alone like I thought I was” she said.
In the context of this songwriting workshop, a form of recovery was taking place. The relationship that Danela built with her teacher helped her open up with the trauma she experienced. Adam was offering advice, support, and mentorship, and music was helping Danela express that which could not easily be said, but that she did not want to keep silent anymore.
SHARING THROUGH SONGWRITING
Recitation of facts is often accompanied by emotion, and Danela is no exception to the case.
However, she was able to share stories about herself much more easily through songwriting than through conversation. Finding the right words can often be difficult, but in that form, it seemed to be easier.
During one of our songwriting sessions, I remember Daniela asking Adam to help her write a song based on her story. It was not from a place of mourning. It was remembrance and acceptance: using music to integrate her memories into her new life and using it in an empowering way.
The most powerful aspect of this experience was that Adam and I were witnessing improvement: she was confronting the horror of her past.
“He was really sweet..” She started. “The first time we kissed... My heart... Oh, my heart.”
Back in Ethiopia, Danela continuously experienced prejudice and even torture because of her gender identity and sexual orientation. She also lost the love of her life.
But here she was, reclaiming her space by freestyle rapping her story over an original rap beat.
In recent years, millions of people have been displaced due to persecution, conflicts and human rights violations. The number of LGBTI refugees and asylum-seekers has risen, according to UNHCR. Today, 77 countries in the world still criminalize same-sex relations, 7 of which punish it with the death penalty. The negative effects of trauma have shown destructive effects on the mental health of refugees, more specifically LGBTI refugees.
Through songwriting, trauma survivors can aim to express and address personal feelings.
While some research has been done on the benefits of music therapy or post-war/trauma survivors, little has been done concerning socio psycho benefits of songwriting or the use of songwriting as a therapeutic intervention. Most of the attention in the field of music therapy focuses on clinical outcomes in preference of methods of practice.
Songwriting reaches many, it is appealing for those who may not always want to share in conversation, with the goal of providing a creative music experience. It can be used by people as a way to impact or to share one's experience with their community.