Music As Therapy


Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is an evidence based practice aimed at helping people reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.  CBT works through learning how what we say to ourselves has a direct correlation to how we feel, and thus affects how we act.  The better you get at recognizing your negative or harmful internal dialogue the better you are able to combat these thoughts and start feeling better to live the life you want.  Being able to contest distorted thinking as it comes up can sometimes be a challenge, even if you have learned the tools taught in therapy.  Luckily, when you need a different way of thinking there is something in your everyday life as a reminder.  Music can aide in our ability to see life’s problems from a different vantage point.

Music has certainty highlighted poignant moments such as when you danced at prom, cheered on a sports team to their big win, or cooed a lullaby to a baby.  Music helps you brave Los Angeles traffic, or soothes you to sleep.  And music can also keep you occupied as you wait for the cable company to answer the phone…whether you like it or not!

Often for people, music has had one other important task; music is there when we are sad.  Have you ever been dumped and then played on repeat the Bonnie Rait song, “I Can’t Make You Love Me?”  Or perhaps lost a loved one and cried to “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton?  The point is, when we are sad we have music that seems to understand exactly how miserable we feel.  The trouble is, sometimes those songs are keeping us sad or stuck. Hearing Whitney Houston belt out “Annnnnd I……………….Will always love yooooooou” might be telling you there is no one else out there to love.  You might then feel hopeless, depressed, and truly lost.  Are you then going to run to the next computer to perk up your online dating profile?  So I propose, as if music was a component of CBT, utilizing tunes to help change the negative thinking patterns that keep us sad or anxious.   So let’s modify the playlist, change what the song is telling you, and thus adjust your feelings. I am going to present to you three songs that I believe have the type of messages you can utilize to help cope with what life brings:

Dawes “Things Happen”

In this song the singer says very plainly, “Things happen, that’s all they ever do.”  To me this line is significant in how it brings life’s ups and downs into a simple statement of fact.  By saying that “things happen,” you are accepting the present moment as it is.  You are allowing the chain of events that brought you here to exist as they are, and in doing so removing residual blame, shame, guilt, and/or anger.  By accepting the “things” that occur in your life, you are able to move forward, instead of being stuck in wanting to change something you cannot.  In the song there is also a line that says, “You can just ignore it, put it out of mind / But ain’t it funny how the past won’t ever let something lie?”  The song is reminding us that we can’t stop our thoughts from happening.  By trying to ignore our thoughts, we are refusing to believe in our own truths and feelings.  Instead identify your thought as helpful or hurtful, accept that “things happen,” and move forward with purpose.

Cat Power “Nothin But Time”

Cat Power’s Chan Marshall told reporters she wrote this song for her friend’s bullied teenage daughter.  In it are the words, “Your world is just beginning… It’s up to you to be a superhero / It’s up to you to be like nobody.”  Reflective of the It Gets Better Project (, this song is a reminder to not just the young but to all of us that what feels so heavy and insurmountable right now has an opportunity to change through time and personal growth. You’ve heard the phrase, “One day at a time”, in itself a wonderful coping statement.  Well, Cat Power is reminding you that those days are many and as you go through each one, “You ain’t got nothing but time / And it ain’t got nothing on you.”  The power in this song is that it forces you to take yourself out of the direct moment and give you a foundation for personal evolution.  It reminds you of the choice you have of staying in the hurt and pain or moving forward, one step at a time, one day at a time.

Taylor Swift “Shake It Off”

What do you tell yourself when people make fun of you, say you’re no good, or that you have no future?  How about “Baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake / Shake it off, shake it off.”  This song is a power anthem for anyone who has ever felt mistreated by those around them.  Taylor sings of other people’s opinions but never gives those opinions any weight.  She doesn’t say to herself, “Maybe they are right” or “I must not be that great because of what they are saying about me.”  Instead she trusts herself to know who she is deep down and believes that to be true.  “Haters gonna hate” indeed!  You can’t change how others act or what they think.  You can try by being a good person, but ultimately it is out of your control what they say to you.  Sir Anthony Hopkins once said, “My philosophy is: It’s none of my business what people say of me and think of me.”  Stop letting others challenge who you believe in yourself to be true.  Taylor says “It’s like I got this music / In my mind, saying it’s gonna be alright.”  That music she sings of is her changing those automatic negative thought patterns and in doing so, changes her feelings of self-worth.

There are countless other songs that are out there to pick you up, help you think clearly, and show you there is a better way to treat yourself.  Christina Aguilera believes “You’re Beautiful,” Katrina & the Waves encourage you to keep “Walking on Sunshine,” and “Don’t Stop Believing” assures Journey.  Use the power of music to change what you say to yourself.  Yes, there is heartbreak, yes there are mean people, and of course times can be rough.  But to help what you say to yourself, “Let the Music Do The Talking” (Aerosmith)


About Shana B. Diskant LMFT

Shana B Diskant Shana B. Diskant is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Shana works to help people struggling with life transitions that create feelings of anxiety, depression, family and relationship conflict, and difficulty with adjustment. She also has a special interest in helping parents manage their kid's challenging behaviors. In addition, Shana is a certified brain injury specialist helping people who are injured and their family members adjust to disability.