Mental Health Session Ideas #3

It’s been a busy year for me, despite having finished my masters degree. I took on some additional non-music therapy related projects at work, which took most of my creative juices, but I’ve still been hit with the occasional “revolution-ary” idea for session plans and therapeutic revolutions. I’ve found that session ideas have proven to be what others are seeking when searching for music therapy and mental health resources. I am a firm believer that we, as music therapists, need more resources and creative ideas to help banish burn-out and spark our own creativity. I’ve done my best in previous posts to consciously reference the places where I adapted an idea or highlighted an idea I really liked. With that being said, I hope in posting my own original ideas I’ve inspired other adaptations or given other music therapists an additional resource to work from. These ideas below are free to you to adapt and implement within your own work, but I do hope you reference this source as where your idea came from. These ideas are specific towards mental health clientele, but can certainly be used within other populations.



Dealing with Stigma/Empowerment

Goals: Education on stigma; increase emotional expression; increase sense of self-worth/empowerment

Therapeutic Revolution: This session begins with a discussion on “what is stigma”? We discuss our own understanding of stigma and I share the dictionary definition. This conversation feeds into a lyric analysis around Matchbox 20’s song, “Unwell”. This song features vivid descriptions of mental health symptoms, including visual and auditory hallucinations, anxiety, depression, delusions, and more. The lyric analysis for this song pairs with an educational resource I created that applies 6 “Steps towards Empowerment“, which I adapted from NAMI’s blog post here. MH Empowerment

This session is education based, but allows for open discussion and emotional expression. Depending on the direction of the session, I end with inferential drumming around the idea of feeling judged, misunderstood, or facing stigma and support the group with a chorus featuring ideas of being empowered and having a voice within the world.

Considerations: Stigma is a more abstract concept to discuss, so keep this in mind when considering this session plan for your group. It often can lead to off-topic, but related conversations, so stay strong with your intentions behind this group and always come back to the music.

Takeaway: Patients often face stigma even within the hospital setting. I have used this session plan when addressing frustrating with hospitalization itself in order to better support the patients and to help give them a voice. We often discuss the importance in advocating for yourself, which ultimately comes back to education. Many times patients do not have the language they need in order to advocate for themselves and their treatment, so this session plan and discussion can be critical for patients when they feel their rights have dwindled within the hospital setting.



Goals: To increase self-acceptance, emotional expression; educate on ‘catharsis’

Therapeutic Revolution: This session focuses mostly around a lyric analysis of “Human” by Christina Perri. Within this lyric analysis, the focus is on what it means to be human, how that relates to hospitalization, and the importance of appropriate catharsis. Within the song, I chose 4 distinct lyrical phrases that offer varying emotions and feelings (reference photo). With each lyric phrase, I chose a corresponding image and cut slips of humanpaper including the image and the phrase. I then lead the group towards choosing one image/phrase to reflect on and have the group journal any thoughts, feelings, or emotions that are evoked from that particular phrase. I ask the group to be honest with their thoughts but to not become attached to these slips of paper, as they will not be keeping them. I then transition the group into a short discussion on appropriate catharsis: what that means, what it looks like, and the difference between appropriate and inappropriate catharsis (crying or laughing vs. cutting). I then ask the group to take their journal slips, tear them up, and throw them into a trash can as a physical act of catharsis or letting go. The session closes with the song, “Let it Be” by the Beatles.

Considerations: Catharsis is a more challenging concept to describe and discuss, so use this session appropriately with your clientele. I have also found that this session can build rapport rather quickly within the group, so it may be a good initial session to use with a new group.

Adaptations: Often I like to incorporate these processing tools, which are essentially stress balls in the shape of various body parts. With these tools, I created related questions to go with each shape, to allow patients to choose one they connect with in order to share their answers (E.g. “What has been difficult to process” for the liver or “What is something you’ve recently learned about yourself” for the brain). I start my group with these tools, to check in with patients and to get them on the theme of being “human”.

Takeaway: My personal aim with this group is on educating about the appropriate ways we can experience catharsis. This is a delicate topic for anyone who has a history of cutting or self-harm, but has the potential to be very important. The song “Human” is a very relatable song and can certainly help support the goal of this therapeutic change.


Stay tuned next week for some additional therapeutic revolution ideas for mental health sessions.

5 responses to “Mental Health Session Ideas #3”

  1. I so appreciate your blog and intervention ideas! I work with homeless male veterans, and your interventions are easily relatable and adaptive for this population. These two particular interventions WILL be implemented in programming before the end of the year. Thank you, so much!


  2. Hi Erin, It’s Mrs. Hathaway! Mr. Belmonte forwarded this site to me and I am so happy to see how you are using music to help others. Bravo! Your ideas are interesting and I think it’s people like you who are advancing the wonderful possibilities of healing with music. I am retiring this year after 23 years teaching music and another 13 years teaching other grades. Music is a lifesaver. I hope you have a bumper sticker on your car that says, “Music Saves Lives”. Email me sometime! Love, Mrs. H


  3. Hi, I’m a music therapist that contracts out of a adult treatment center. And I see the same clients for months on end at times, so I was running out of ideas. I really appreciate this blog as it has inspired several new interventions that my clients respond quite positively to! So just wanted to drop a ‘thank you’ for sharing your wonderful revolutions with the world!



  4. I appreciate you posting these session plans so very much, I recently started as an advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and have been working on starting a music therapy group with my ladies and your blog is amazing, thank you so much.


  5. Hi there,
    Thanks for all the ideas. Can you please tell me what the 4 phrases are for “Human” I can not read them. Thanks!


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