Self-Selected Music for Relational Trauma: Commentary on the Psychotherapy Case of "James"

Ben G Adams

Abstract


This commentary discusses Dr. Paul Blimling’s (2019) composite case of James, a patient with a history of severe childhood interpersonal trauma, who responded remarkably well to individual psychotherapy augmented with the targeted use of self-selected music. I describe how music and psychotherapy both have their origins in the shamanistic practices of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, such that combining psychotherapy and music together is a reconciliation of sorts. The Case of James demonstrates how music can be used in psychotherapy with a counter-dependent patient, to help the patient to access sensitive, vulnerable feelings that normally would never be expressed to another person. In this case, the therapist’s keen sensitivity to the patient’s disorganized attachment style created an environment in which the patient eventually felt safe lowering his defenses and expressing his emotions in the treatment—with the help of five songs. Aside from the direct, visceral benefits of the music itself, the process of asking a relationally traumatized patient to select a song has other potential benefits. For example, it supports the patient’s sense of self (which, in the relationally traumatized patient, is likely fragmented), and it may reduce the "hot seat" feeling with a self-conscious patient, by shifting focus from the patient to the song. Songs selected by patients in advance of a session versus songs selected during a session may provide different types of information, and may have different types of benefits. If I were working with a patient such as James, two additional possibilities I would consider are (a) helping the patient to develop practical skills for managing overwhelming emotions, and (b) making the patient’s goals a more prominent focus throughout the treatment.

Keywords


music; psychotherapy; relational trauma; attachment; self-selected songs; case study; clinical case study

Full Text:

PDF


DOI: https://doi.org/10.14713/pcsp.v15i2.2054

Published by the Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology and the Rutgers University Libraries. This web site created and hosted by the Scholarly Communication Center - Rutgers University Libraries. Copyright