Doctors at Harvard Medical School have confirmed something musicians have known for years: songwriting can be healing and transformative.
The Harvard team studied ten war veterans involved with Songwriting With Soldiers (SWS), a project that pairs songwriters with returned service men and women.
SWS hosts regular retreats at which veterans (and their families) tell their stories to established songwriters. They then co-write a song in a process that many veterans say can be life-changing (and in some cases life-saving).
Doctors Ronald Hirschberg and Louisa Sylvia examined symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression among veterans before and after the songwriting sessions. They found that four weeks after the sessions veterans experienced a 33% drop in PTSD symptoms and a 22% drop in depression symptoms.
A report in The Harvard Gazette on the study suggests two things are at play here. Firstly, the process of telling their stories and drawing on traumatic memories appears to help veterans deal with anger, frustration and guilt. Secondly, the song that is created in the process is a useful tool in itself. Many veterans said they found it hard to speak directly to loved ones about their trauma. Being able to share a song that summed up their thoughts and feelings was a positive thing that fostered greater understanding.
There is no suggestion that songwriting is a cure-all, but the study serves as a timely reminder of the power of the creative process.
If you’re curious to learn more about SWS then check out Mary Gauthier’s remarkable Rifles and Rosary Beads. It’s up for Best Folk Album at the Grammy’s on Sunday. You can also read iSingmag’s interview with Gauthier HERE.