Re-Write Your Story with Music & Narrative Therapy


As human beings we seem to have a deep need to tell and share our stories. It appears to be in our very nature to live and understand our lives in a narrative way. Often we create and share stories culturally through books and other media to find meaning in our experiences, teach and comfort children, and to pass on knowledge, values and traditions. This is also true in our personal lives. We all have many stories, experiences and events we are seeking to understand and make meaningful. Stories about who we are and what has happened, our relationships, our passions, our problems, our past failures and our future hopes. As author and Narrative Therapist, Alice Morgan puts it “a Narrative is like a thread that weaves the events together, forming a story” ( Morgan, 2002, p. 5).


In my work as a Board-Ceritifed Music Therapist I have often witnessed the power music can have on our life stories. Music can transport us back to the sensory-rich details of an all but forgotten memory. It can support us in our most formative years as we struggle to find a sense of identity, cope with overwhelming emotions, and provide comfort to know we are not alone. Much like in film, music becomes the score or soundtrack to the most important, emotional and meaningful moments in our lives. In this way, music becomes wired into our brains and bodies and can be a tool to piece together the many stories of your life into a coherent narrative.


One way to make the most of this powerful relationship between music and narratives is by creating what I call a “Life Story Playlist”. A Life Story Playlist is a very personal and creative way to thread together important events in your life and pair each with a specific song. When this is done in therapy, I will collaborate with clients to identify what significant experiences in their life they would like to include on this playlist and what music best represents or symbolizes those events. It may be that the lyrics to a certain song perfectly communicate something you hadn’t found the words for, or maybe a song highlights a long-held value of yours, or reflects a time in your life you are proud of where a certain problem had less of a hold on you. You may chose songs where the mood or overall vibe of the music puts you in touch with a feeling and helps you process your emotions.


“The past which is not recoverable in any other way is embedded, as if in amber, in the music, and people can regain a sense of identity. . . ” — Oliver Sacks


While music can be nostalgic and there can be value in reminiscence, the main goal of this exercise is not to re-live or become stuck in the past. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Life Story Playlists are used in therapy to bring forward the stories of strength, meaning and hope throughout your life. Particularly when those stories have been overshadowed by problems or unresolved trauma in the past. Importantly, if trauma has impacted your sense of having a coherent narrative, leaving you feeling fragmented or even with missing memories, it is possible that music can bring up overwhelming feelings and even be triggering. At our therapy practice in Pasadena, I will work closely with you in a trauma-sensitive way to ensure this is a safe tool for healing and not regression. In this way, music can be used as a resource to open up perspectives and possibilities. It has been my experience that when used in a supportive, healing context, even music associated with past negative events can be transformed into a positive resource to ground you in the present and help you heal. Your story is not fixed and there is always the possibility of new meanings, perspectives and narratives.

If you are interested in finding out more about how using music and narrative therapy may be a part of your own healing journey, reach out and contact Scott at California Integrative Therapy for a free consultation or to schedule a session. Scott provides individual therapy in Pasadena, couples therapy in Pasadena and group therapy in Pasadena. Taking a highly integrative, compassionate and collaborative approach Scott considers it a privilege to honor all parts of his client’s stories as they seek to create meaning, growth and change in their lives.

References and Further Reading

Barry, T. J., Lenaert, B., Hermans, D., Raes, F., & Griffith, J. W. (2018). Meta-analysis of the association between autobiographical memory specificity and

exposure to trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress 31(1), 35-46.

Cohen, J. A., & Mannarino, A. P. (2015). Trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy for traumatized children and families. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric

Clinics of North America, 24(3), 557- 570.

Foa, E. B. (2011). Prolonged exposure therapy: Past, present and future. Depression and Anxiety, 28(12), 1043–1047.

Green, A. (2011). Art and music therapy for trauma survivors. Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal, 24(2), 14-19.

Herman, J. L. (2002). Recovery from psychological trauma. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 52(1), S98–S103.

Morgan, A. (2002). What is narrative therapy?: An easy-to-read introduction. Dulwich Centre Publications.

Sutton, J. P., & De Backer, J. (2009). Music, trauma and silence: The state of the art. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 36(2), 75-83.

van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma

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