Here is an interesting way to play “guess that song” that individualizes the treatment experience and can later on include the whole family! The goals for the activity include to engage attention, elevate and regulate mood, and access positive memories. Once attention is engaged, the negative thoughts lose their strength (i.e., their grip on the patient’s mind and emotions) because the thoughts are no longer the center of focus. Through this activity, the patient also has the opportunity to reflect on positive memories that were more difficult to access while in a negative mood state. Therefore, an engaging music-based intervention is just what the psychologist ordered…literally! The implementation of this activity requires at least two therapy sessions.

First session: collaboratively create a list of meaningful songs known by the patient. Considering the patient may be distracted by negative thoughts, it may be challenging for him or her to recall uplifting songs. You can present your own repertoire, select songs which you think the patient might like, and then ask if he or she knows the song and would like to include it on the list. The objective is that by the end of the session you have a list of about 15 songs that both you and the patient know.

Preparing for Second Session: design the game layout and collect the materials. For the game layout pictured, I drew 16 spaces which included a hand, pencil, closed mouth, open mouth, stick figure, and one “You Decide” spot. The “you decide” spot means that the patient gets to choose whether he or she wants to clap the rhythm (hand), draw the song (pencil), hum the song (closed mouth), sing the song (open mouth), or act out the song (stick figure). Laminate the construction paper game board. Next, make song cards by stenciling out squares on construction paper, writing the song titles in the squares, laminating the paper, and cutting out the squares. The spinner was made via word document: insert pie chart, make data all 25%, and choose colors. The spinner was laminated, extra paper cut, and then extra laminated paper used for the spinner arrow which I taped to a piece of foam. I used tape to label each pie of the spinner with a number. Two different colored foam pieces were used to mark our spots on the board.

Second Session: provide the instructions and play the game. Explain that you will spin the spinner, move your foam piece according to the number indicated, choose a song card, and, depending on where the foam piece lands, either clap the rhythm of the song, draw the song, hum it, sing it, or act it out. Make sure to have piece of paper and a writing utensil to draw.

Tips for Session Success:

  • Bring All Materials: laminated game board, laminated song cards, foam pieces (2), spinner, arrow, paper, writing utensil.
  • Take Your Time: the goal of the game is not to finish the game as quickly as possible. If she laughs, laugh with her, and laugh longer. Be as silly as possible. If she wants to reflect on one of the songs, reflect with her and validate the goodness of that memory. If negative self-talk slips through, re-direct and encourage her. Avoid rigidity, embrace flexibility.
  • Home Exercise: let the child or adolescent know that this game is for her to keep. Encourage her to play it with family and friends to establish healthy ways to cope with negative thoughts.

Further Reading Material:

  • “Music Therapy in the Treatment of Adults with Mental Disorders: Theoretical Bases and Clinical Interventions,” edited by Robert F. Unkefer and Michael H. Thaut.
  • The chapter on “Music in Psychosocial Training and Counseling” in the Neurologic Music Therapy Handbook edited by Thaut and Hoemberg.

The first book is a go-to for learning more about music therapy within mental health. I have read it enough times for it to influence the way I provide music-based interventions for people experiencing mental health crises. Be sure to check out the book for a deeper understanding behind the evidence-based rationale of using music to treat mental disorders. The chapter from the NMT Handbook is also excellent and shorter!