Therapeutic Songwriting…and Gwen Stefani


By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC 

Ray is a Board-Certified music therapist who directs A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program through a partnership with Inova Health Systems.

Gwen Stefani has been a pop superstar for over 20 years, fronting the hip-pop 90s super-group No Doubt, as a solo artist and as one of the recent panel stars of the hit reality TV show “The Voice”.  Ms. Stefani has also been in the news recently as a result of the very public break-up of her marriage, where she admittedly stated that she was completely reeling.  “Suddenly my life was literally blown up in my face.  I’m gonna die, I am dead, actually.  How do I save myself?  What am I going to do?”  Perhaps Gwen Stefani was having trouble expressing and bringing to the service what she was really feeling inside.  Perhaps she was unable to express and release the very real pain she was experiencing.  And therefore, perhaps she was not able to let that pain go and was unable to heal and move on.  Like many of us, she used music to help her rise out of the abyss.  And, as she’s done in the past when experiencing emotional turmoil, she turned to songwriting, “When I was able to first write a song, that’s when I found my whole self.”  Ms. Stefani’s new album, titled “This Is What The Truth Feels Like”, explores the rawness of her emotional state during this recent, very trying and very painful time in her life.  The writing and recording of this album was her…therapy.  About the writing process she said, “Being in that room and being creative, that was the only place that felt good.” And, of the finished album, “I’m not going to say I’m not still picking up the pieces and every day isn’t a challenge, I’m still in shock. But it’s an awesome time.”

Read more about Gwen Stefani and her new album here:

In music therapy, songwriting can be a very powerful intervention when working with a myriad of clients and patients.  

-       Songwriting can help give a voice to a child with autism, who has trouble finding the words to express what they are feeling

-       Songwriting can help the young adolescent who has been abused; with self-worth and self-esteem

-       Songwriting can help the newly diagnosed cancer patient understand what they are feeling inside and how to cope

-       Songwriting can help a group of recovering addicts work together and support each other in starting to put their lives back together

-       Songwriting can help the hospice patient reflect on and review their life, and perhaps leave part of their legacy (their “song”) for their loved ones to cherish after they are gone

Recently I had the pleasure of working with a 9-year old child who had been in the hospital for almost a week, dealing with various respiratory issues.  We spoke a little and sang a few songs, but the child was feeling down from being bed-bound in a hospital room; missing friends, the family pet and missing being at school. The child kept talking about everything that had happened in the past week; the IV lines, the medicines, the tests and feeling lonely.  I then suggested we write a song together, about what the child was going to do after leaving the hospital.  What was going to happened when they got to go home.  We wrote a song about looking ahead and about looking forward to better times.  We wrote lyrics about friends, ice cream, riding a scooter, seeing a movie and sitting at the family dinner table on pizza night.  We picked out some music that sounded like the current Disney-pop that was on the radio.  And when the child sang about going forward, about looking ahead to all of the great things to come, there were smiles…then laughs!  The child’s eyes lit up like, well…a 9-year old child!  The child’s mother said that it was the first laughter she’d heard in days.  Suddenly there was a very different feeling in that hospital room.  We wrote the lyrics down on a piece of paper, to keep under the pillow in the hospital bed so when the sad feelings of still being in the hospital rose up again, those lyrics could be looked at and the child could sing and look ahead to tomorrow.  And my favorite quote – “Wow, did I really just write a song?  I’m awesome!”  Just like Gwen, sometimes we need help getting out of the grind of the past, figuring out what we are feeling inside and how to express ourselves so we can move on.  Luckily, we have music.  We can all be songwriters when needed.  And sometimes, its just what the doctor ordered.

The healing power of music…

(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)