We’ve always got music

Psychological research has found that engaging with music has many benefits for wellbeing and mental health. Music involves the whole brain and enhances many physical and mental processes, connecting us with our emotions and individual psychologies.  

In this weird worldwide viral situation and time of isolation I’ve turned to music much more than usual. Listening takes my mind off things, can lift my mood and sometimes distracts.  I also listen when I need to feel a bit less alone, when I need to concentrate and when I want to be physical and dance.  

I’ve noticed that some tracks and artists work especially well for some or all these reasons but often one particular track stays with me and when that happens I make a note of it and write down what it means and does for me.  

For example, at the point, nearly two weeks into a period of family lockdown, when the virus hit us personally, I couldn’t get Michael Kiwanuka’s  ‘Cold, little heart’ out of my head.  It brought me in touch with my own sadness about not seeing and hugging the other members of my family. It reminded me of how cold and little my own heart was feeling.  So many lines touched and helped me to make sense of my own emotional state and yes, I did cry, but then I felt better because I truly understood that I was not as alone as I had thought.  

As a psychologist I’ve practised for a long time on the basis that I can, indeed, should, be distanced from others’ feelings.  In theory, whilst in psychologist mode I should be able to cut off from my own emotional experience whilst everyone around me is going through their own sadnesses, missing others and feeling the true weight of isolation.  Even sadder, in some ways, are the many people for whom, tragically, social isolation measures have not made their lives very different.  Whilst I love and respect a good theory and think that the best theories have prctical applicability this is a time when a purely theoretical approach is not possible for me.

Although as an educational psychologist I have had a particular focus on learning and development, so much of the work involves emotional aspects. The big, organised Psychology bodies, such as the British Psychological Societ are organised in relation to the claim that this huge subject can be boxed into a range of specialist fields of application such as clinical (i.e. mental health), forensic, sport, health etc. My clinical experience suggests these divisions have more to do with the political, commercial and administrative aspects of professional psychology than the complex human material applied psychologists work with.

The reason I have now turned increasingly from the traditional assessment-based professional psychology practice to writing is because I realised I wanted to be a person who uses psychology rather than a ‘psychologist’. Being honest about my own feelings and the fact that I am as much ‘in process’, just as ‘flawed’ and ‘unsorted’ as anyone else has become increasingly necessary and so now I use my psychology knowledge and experience by writing about my own thinking and also writing fiction.  

I still believe in the basic premise of psychology, that all behavioural change starts by gaining understanding about individuals’ inner states, i.e., their feelings, thoughts, perceptions and beliefs only.  Sometimes, individuals can become stuck in their own thinking or even ill so that they need professional psychology help in this process of gaining a better understanding in order to make things better.  Other times and for the majority of people, who will never require the input of a psychologist, they will work things out for themselves and at this time, when we can’t actually be with any of the people who would usually help, there is always music.



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