A blog by Stephen Dansiger.
Anyone who has known me for more than a minute has heard me say that punk rock saved my life. In 1977 I was 15 years old, a perfect age to discover the healing waters of music with a message. I was already enough of an accomplished drummer to be asked to join several bands, and I found my way onto the stage in the punk clubs of NYC, including CBGB and Max’s Kansas City amongst others, at the age of 16. Alongside this development was the blossoming of my abuse of substances. I started at 12 and was probably in trouble by about age 14. These two pathways were in fact my adaptations to trauma and its effects. The music was fully adaptive; the substance abuse “maladaptively adaptive.” Much like Gabor Maté and others have declared, in order to truly understand what was going on with me we would need to look beneath the surface at the trauma underlying the behaviors. That did not happen until my 20s and beyond, when I was able to let go of substances.
Now as an EMDR therapist, consultant, and trainer, I engage regularly with my clients in something called resource development, or resourcing. In EMDR therapy traditionally, there is a set of resourcing exercises that Dr. Francine Shapiro developed as part of the therapy. Over the last 30 years that tool kit has expanded. At the Institute for Creative Mindfulness where I am Senior Faculty, our philosophy is that a resource is anything and everything that is healthy and/or adaptive for the client in front of you. This opens the door to a more holistic approach to EMDR therapy, or any therapy for that matter. Now the resources we are trying to develop are personalized and client centered.
It just so happens that “music is the universal language” is a cliché for a reason. Of all the statements I might make without a research study to back me up, “people love music” is the closest I can come to feeling comfortable claiming an almost 100 percent truth rating. When I ask my clients, especially my young clients, what their resources are, most often music is on the list. Sometimes it is the only resource on the list. Why not leverage music to build resilience, to promote healing, to promote the development of positive neural networks at the front end of therapy?
I have been working as a health and wellness advisor for a music technology company for the last few years. What I have learned as I have tested that technology at home and in my office is that music is naturally therapeutic. The brain science behind it - that is for another blog post or article. That being said, watching a client melt into my couch as he listens to a favorite song at the end of a session to transition from my office back into the world, I witness in vivo the power of music and the power of holistic clinical work. I see the healing of mind, body and spirit; I grow in my own compassionate respect for the dignity and uniqueness of each individual; I witness the power of joy and deep emotion; and I see the possibility of the adaptive resolution of traumatic material in order so that we might live with some peace and ease. Music can be an integral part of that healing. And it can be an ongoing relationship through the whole life span, allowing for more natural resilience going forward.
About Dr Dansiger:
Dr. Steve played CBGB and Max’s Kansas City in the late 70s; drank, played in a toy rock band and then got sober in the 80s; became an international educator and rocker again in the 90s; and is now a sought after consultant, trainer, clinician, writer and meditation teacher. Dr. Steve has attempted to cure Marc Maron on WTF, become a master EMDR therapist and provider of EMDR Training as Senior Faculty with the Institute for Creative Mindfulness, and has become a pioneer in the Buddhist recovery field. He developed the MET(T)A Protocol, a design for mental health agency treatment using Buddhist Mindfulness and EMDR Therapy, currently being utilized in trauma and addiction treatment centers across the country. He avidly blogs and podcasts on topics related to mental health, recovery, and mindfulness. Besides maintaining a private practice in Los Angeles, he travels internationally speaking and teaching on Buddhist mindfulness, EMDR therapy, the MET(T)A Protocol, trauma, corporate wellness, Buddhist approaches to treating mental health issues, and clinician self-care. He has been practicing Buddhist mindfulness for almost 30 years (including a one year residency at a Zen monastery), and teaches dharma classes regularly in Los Angeles and other centers internationally. At all other times, he is wrangling and entertaining his 9 year old daughter.
Dr. Steve is the author of several books including Clinical Dharma: A Path for Healers and Helpers (2016), EMDR Therapy and Mindfulness for Trauma-Focused Care (coauthored with Jamie Marich, 2017), and Mindfulness for Anger Management (2018).
- Q&A with Paula Shields from Asia’s first gender responsive trauma-informed addiction treatment for women.