By Adam Zwig, PhD
Sandy’s Distraction *
I don’t usually use music in my practice but I want to tell you about a client who had a strange musical experience in our session. Sandy, a 46 year-old receptionist, told me that she’d been depressed ever since her divorce a year earlier, and despite doing her best to get on with life she couldn’t seem to break out of her sadness. I asked her to describe her feelings in detail and she said, “I feel lost and sad and empty but I try not to focus on it. It’s such a struggle.”
I suggested she focus directly on these feelings but she shook her head. “Aren’t you going to help me get rid of this? I don’t want to focus on it.”
“I understand, it’s painful, but by exploring it we may learn something,” I replied. “Let’s go further into it and see where it goes. In fact, feel it even more. Get even more lost, sad, and empty.”
She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “This doesn’t makes sense to me but I’ll try anything at this point.”
She closed her eyes and I encouraged her to feel lost, sad, and empty, and even exaggerate the feelings. After a while she opened her eyes and said, “Sorry, I’m having trouble because I’m hearing a song in my head. As soon as I go all the way into my sadness and really feel it this song comes in and distracts me.”
I asked her what song it was and she said it was an old one she hadn’t heard in years - Knocking on Heaven’s Door, by Bob Dylan. I wanted to know how the song made her feel but she said, “I don’t know, I’m trying to ignore it. I can sort of make it go away but as soon as I feel sad again, it pops back in… ‘Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door’…”
I suggested she listen really closely to the song in her mind and pay attention to the feelings and thoughts that arise. We did this for a few more minutes and then suddenly she broke down crying. I waited for her to compose herself and asked her what happened.
She said she felt in touch with something deep, spiritual, otherworldly—something about accepting life. I asked her what she meant by “accepting life,” and she told me the whole story of her relationship with her husband and their divorce. Then she said that everyone, including several therapists, had told her to be strong, cheer up, leave the sad feelings, and get out there to meet someone new. In addition, a psychiatrist had recommended she take antidepressants. The consensus was that a year is too long to be grieving, but the more they told her this the worse she felt.
Now, she had a completely different feeling, one that provided her with a sense of relief and peace she hadn’t felt for a long time. She said, “I suddenly feel like what happened with my ex is okay. I’m okay. Everything’s going to be alright. I can let go and accept things as they are. What a relief!”
We explored this further and then I asked if she could apply this experience to her whole life. After pondering it she nodded, “That would be amazing. It’s a completely different way of living, like I wouldn't have to worry and fight things. It’s all going to work out. Life will take care of me.”
I tried to find out how the song had opened this up in her but she wasn’t sure. “I don’t know. It’s just the sound of it, and of course, the word, ‘heaven.’ I’m not religious, but it gives me a feeling of life beyond my dramas.”
After this session Sandy’s grief lifted, and her life took on a whole new direction. Until we processed her experience of Knocking on Heaven’s Door, she'd been trying to avoid her sadness. She didn’t view it as a meaningful process, but rather as something wrong. In addition, as I mentioned, everyone in her environment had echoed this sentiment by encouraging her to get out of the grief and get on with life.
However, this wasn’t what she needed. She needed to get in touch with something deeper, something beyond the personal, even beyond the rational, and connect with a spiritual awareness that could embrace and support her experiences instead of rejecting them.
The Problem Is The Solution
The standard view of her problem was that there was a malfunction in her mind—an illness called "depression," manifesting as being in too long of a grieving period (as if there’s a “normal" amount of time). The solution was thought to be to repair the malfunction by finding a new relationship, or by covering over her sadness with medication. But this wasn’t what her mind and heart were seeking.
Her chronic grief was a meaningful and purposeful process that lead not only to the solution for her lost relationship, but to a whole new way of being, as well. The divorce had pushed her into a depression which, when intentionally focussed on and amplified, sparked a song that gave her a new way of relating to life. She discovered the hidden music within her grief (both literally and figurtively) by consciously going into the painful feelings instead of trying to get rid of them.
My client transformed through a song, but you don’t need music to change and grow. You just need to learn how to tap into and follow your process. Instead of thinking of your problem as a meaningless piece of junk you want to throw out, think of it as a meaningful process with a beautiful song hiding within the ugliness. Of course, you can’t just go straight to the song, you have to go through a process, and this is what I’ll be blogging about in the coming months. Stay tuned!
*Client names have been changed.
Dr. Zwig—psychotherapist, singer-songwriter, educator, and author holds a PhD in clinical psychology, is an internationally renowned workshop leader and lecturer, and has had 9 Top Ten hit singles on the U.S Adult Contemporary charts. He has been featured in Billboard, Huffington Post, CNBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, Forbes, Gibson, and many other publications, and has over 75 million views on YouTube. Dr Zwig has released 7 albums and his songs can regularly be heard on NBC, Fox, and Fuel TV. His forthcoming book, Music in the Mayhem: Tales of Total Transformation from a Rock n Roll Psychotherapist, arrives soon.
DISCLAIMER: The content contained herein is for inspirational, educational, and entertainment purposes only. Nowhere in this Blog does Dr. Zwig diagnose or treat a viewer with any kind of psychological, mental, emotional or physical disorder as might be diagnosed and treated by a personal psychologist or other professional advisor. The content is not intended to be a substitute for working with a therapist but is for the purpose of educating the viewer about new approaches to working on personal problems. Viewers should use this Blog at their own risk, with the understanding that Dr. Zwig is not liable for its impact or effect on its users. Viewing this Blog does not form a practitioner/client relationship between the viewer and Dr. Zwig. Dr. Zwig is not responsible for any action taken by a viewer based upon any information in this Blog. Never disregard professional medical advice or stop taking psychiatric medication based on something you have read on this Blog without a doctor’s supervision and ongoing therapeutic support. Dr. Zwig is an educator, author, and life coach in the U.S., and a psychotherapist in Switzerland. He holds a PhD in clinical psychology. He is also a rock n roll musician.