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What are your clients hearing?

November 1, 2007
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no. Yes I been black, but when I come back, You won't know, know, know

“Rehab,” Amy Winehouse

It's half past midnight. Do you know where your client's iPod is? Kathryn Benson, LADC, NCAC II, a prominent leader in NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals and its Tennessee state affiliate, thinks her fellow clinicians should take an interest in the music their clients enjoy. But the perspective of this musically oriented counselor is much more developed than the oft-heard idle comment about how the above hit song might influence someone ambivalent about treatment.

Benson believes a client's favorite artist or musical genre tends to reflect and reinforce the client's belief system about relationships, self, or the world in general. If she sees a client stuck in a particular pattern that appears detrimental to recovery, she will ask about the type of music the client listens to. Sometimes she'll even ask the client to bring a CD into the session so they can listen together.

“Sometimes when they listen with me, they're just horrified with what they hear,” Benson says.

In one of the most striking examples she recalls, Benson tells of a young engaged woman who had been tormented with fear of abandonment by her fiancé as their wedding date approached. One day she told Benson she wanted to share with her a Lorrie Morgan song that she listened to constantly. She said every time she heard the country singer's line about not needing someone and being able to take care of herself, she felt an empowering rush. What the client wasn't hearing was that the singer was expressing this sentiment after the man in her life had left her.

“The very fear she had tried to overcome, she had been reinforcing,” Benson says.

Benson says she would never suggest that a client not listen to a particular artist or style, though she will try to help a client identify a pattern that could be impeding progress. Nor would she ever contend that artists should refrain from addressing certain topics in their music because of the influence their lyrics might have on listeners.

“Many artists are coming into their own healing,” she says. “They are doing their work.”

It does pain her, however, to hear that many well-known musicians refrain from being open about their own recovery because someone tells them that this would make them less commercially appealing. Seeing some of these artists bloom in their recovery sends a powerful message, after many spent years in hiding, she says.

Benson knows of no research on the influence of music on addiction and recovery, although she believes her home base of Nashville has the music history and the academic prowess to be the ideal study site.

I'm interested in Addiction Professional readers' perspective on how music—or other aspects of popular culture—affects treatment and recovery. Is this a topic you've discussed with clients, and what was the end result? Send your comments to me at genos1@cox.net; maybe we can strike a note for a new level of understanding.

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