top of page
  • Writer's picturePaul Matthew

What is Your Playlist? A music inspired grounding technique in Pluralistic Therapy

Part One - Introductions

“When Words Leave off Music Begins” – Heinrich Heine

“Music is the Shorthand of Emotion” – Leo Tolstoy

“Music can heal the wounds which medicine can’t touch” – Debasish Mridha

Most people have a story about music: It could be how it came into their lives. How one song describes a moment in their lives, be it good or bad. How one album defines a summer or a relationship (or got them over one). When I was 15, I got my first Saturday job, in a local record store. I thought I knew a lot about music until I spent pretty much every penny I earned buying CD’s and Records and being pointed in every direction by the eclectic and knowledgeable staff that worked with me. I was introduced to Gemma Hayes, Rufus Wainwright, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell (to name a few out of hundreds). Joni Mitchell’s album “Blue” (1971) and Gemma Hayes’ “Night on My side” (2002) got me through my awkward teenage years. Special mention also to "Songs of Leonard Cohen" Leonard Cohen's 1967 album and The Flaming Lips' 2002 Album "Yoshimi battles the pink robots".

Music can have a profound effect on our lives, some would argue as much as therapy can. As a pluralistic therapist I try to reach clients on their wavelength (in their key). Some counselling sessions can be intense, things can be brought up that take clients to dark places and it is important to properly ground a session if possible.

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you will know that I love to bring accessible mindfulness into my sessions. Accessible grounding sessions based in mindfulness can be so helpful to some clients.

As a musician and music lover, even when I was at University studying counselling, I was looking for a way to work with Mindfulness and Music in a pluralistic way. “What is your playlist” comes from years of adjusting and seeing what works with clients and has been developed with the feedback of over 30 clients (as of 2022).

This blog won’t be long. It won’t go into great theoretical depth. It’s designed to be an easy to access an implement tool for therapists to work with clients. Also, if they so choose, for clients to work with themselves. It works with groups and with individuals. It has applications in many places beyond counselling and could work well as a self-care exercise anywhere. It is important to remember to use this technique pluralistically, it may not work with every client. However, it has been brought to almost every client group I work with and more than 28 clients gave positive feedback.

If you are unsure about using mindfulness-based grounding techniques, please see my blog post and guide on that (link below), try some of those first and come back to this. However, this is a basic technique which therapists with any level of experience should be able to do.

You might ask me what qualifies me to come up with this technique? Well, I am a qualified Pluralistic therapist, a professional musician of over 20 years and a Buddhist who has practiced mindfulness for over 15 years.

I have one final thought before I get into the technique itself. The purpose of this exercise is to remind clients of the resilience music can give them, and of the positive stories around music in our lives. Be that happy memories of people that are no longer here, of things in the past, or perhaps things in the future. It’s about stories, and distractions and the power of music to lift us up. Remember to try this on yourself before trying it with clients.

Part Two: What is your Playlist

What is your playlist is simple, ask the client the questions below. They can answer one song, two, an entire album, it can be answered within a session or taken away as homework. They can answer the same song again but I do like to encourage them to give different answers. You can cut it up and ask 3 or 4 and do it over multiple sessions within the last 15 minutes as multiple grounding exercises.

Song 1: What is a song that you find Uplifting?

(Alternatively – what song picks you up?)

It can be helpful to encourage the client if they do have a story around the song to tell it. But also that they can skip any question.

Song 2: What is a song you listen to when you’re feeling low?

This is a similar question to the last one if taken one way. However, it’s important to understand here that some people use music to lift them up, others to acknowledge those feelings they have been having. A good song can make you feel heard.

Song 3: What song is number one on your get psyched mix?

(Alternatively – What song motivates you)

This requires a little explanation, In essence you are looking for a song here that the client listens to, to motivate themself, what do they listen to when they are going out?

Song 4: What song do you listen to when you are happy?

The answers to this one are probably the most varied. I had expected a lot of upbeat music when I wrote this question but when I asked clients, I got answers with everything from Classical music to Jazz to Taylor Swift to 80s rap. What was a majority outcome was a positive story about why that song makes them happy. It is useful to ask that question.

Song 5: What song do you listen to when you want/ need to think or are feeling thoughtful?

This question often throws clients, which is exactly why I put it in. The overwhelming majority preferred instrumental music but some preferred music that overwhelmed the senses, others, something that could be in the background.

Song 6: What is your heartbreak song?

(Alternatively – What song got you through a difficult time?)

With most clients I likened the scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary where she sings “All By Myself” at the atonally and at the top of her voice. Although I do work with a lot of students and some hadn’t even heard of Bridget Jones’ Diary. It is relatively easy regardless to explain the concept, you can always lean on the alternative question here if you get stuck.

Song 7: What song do you like to chill out to?

(Alternatively – What Song do you find Relaxing?)

Again, this one can have some surprising answers. One person’s easy listening is another person’s Rammstein or Cypress Hill. This question has in my experience brought up some of the most interesting stories from clients.

Song 8: What song or album are you taking to a desert island?

For obvious reasons this allows clients again to think of their favourites, which often elicits happy memories.

Song 9: What song do you wish everyone you met could listen to?

It asks a similar question to some of the other songs but gets the client out of their head a little and considering not their feelings but the feelings of those around them.

Song 10: What is a song that reminds you of someone special?

I always save this one for last. Mostly due to personal preference and because of the smile it brings out in some clients about a loved one.

Part 3: Conclusions

This exercise isn’t designed to break new ground or be complicated. It’s an easy and simple way to ground the end of a session, to develop the client counsellor relationship and to potentially help towards a shift in focus for clients.

The feedback I have had from some clients has been that they use it far more often day to day and have asked loved ones to answer it too. For other clients it served as a one-time thing that helped ground a very difficult session and for one or two it wasn’t their thing. It is important at all times to have in mind as a therapist when doing this exercise the client as an individual. This is a tool for your tool belt and not one to be shoe horned in if the situation doesn’t allow for it.

It has applications outside of therapy too. It can be used on yourself, family, friends and in a wider support session where applicable.

I hope this can be helpful to some. What is your playlist Is an organic process and this blog may change or have addendums with more feedback and application. Feel free to let me know your experiences.

So... What is your playlist?

Paul Matthew


Harmony Counselling and Psychotherapy

Recent Posts

See All

1 comentario

25 ene

Integrating music into therapeutic practices can unlock profound emotional connections and enhance the overall therapeutic experience. It adds a unique and personalized dimension to the process, allowing individuals to express and explore their feelings in a creative and comforting way. This approach not only acknowledges the power of music in healing but also underscores the importance of individual preferences in the therapeutic journey. Choose one of the platforms - idagio vs primephonic - and promote your songs there.

Me gusta
bottom of page