Existentialism was unknown to me until my junior year. It was a professor who first mentioned Viktor Frankl to me in the form of an optional Christmas break reading assignment of “Man’s Search for Meaning.” At that stage in my life, I would have normally observed the break and would have left my schoolwork in Boone, but not this time. The extra reading assignment came at the end of the lecture on Existentialism in my Models of Mental Health in Music Therapy class.
This was the class in which I really and truly got to learn more about my classmates. I wasn’t really surprised to find out that some classmates aligned with a Cognitive Behavioral approach and others aligned, or just seemed to fit into, a Humanistic approach, etc. For me it was Existentialism and somewhere deep down inside of me I knew that I needed to read “Man’s Search for Meaning” over the Christmas break.
I connected with something. It is what I now know of (from my love of Jung) as a connection with the Collective Unconscious. It was a “light bulb” moment. The world made sense, all of my ducks were in a row, colors seemed brighter, etc. You get the picture. I was hooked on finding meaning in events or feelings I had. I couldn’t get enough of Viktor Frankl and his Logotherapy. (“logo” = meaning) “meaning”-therapy. What an excellent idea. If one can find meaning in their suffering then they have overcome it.
I was rejuvenated when break was over. I set a new objective to incorporate my newfound existential beliefs into my own music therapy work. I realized that these were thought processes that I had before, but now with focus. I felt strong. This semester my practicum was in a psychiatric setting so I was able to immediately apply my newly honed skills. I was able to verbally process with clients in a more creative way…in a way that was more conducive for their treatment. Finding meaning in whatever perceived negative reason they were in the facility was almost novel to the patients.
Fitting Existentialism into music came natural for me. Most people that I engaged in music therapy during this practicum in psychiatric care were able to relate the music I had selected for their lyric analysis and relate the meaning they found in the music to whatever situation they were experiencing in their life at that moment. The art of finding meaning in life’s experiences is completely subjective. The meaning found in music and art is subjective as well. That being said, isn’t it true that given the right guidance, through music, we all have within ourselves the ability to heal ourselves? I’ve had clients say that they had “never looked at that song that way before.” Music is multi-dimensional in the ways we can enjoy and experience it. People who, upon entering treatment, felt as though they had nothing left to live for, expressed feelings of great happiness and appreciation of life after they heard and sang along to a familiar song that elicited feelings…and those feelings were attached to meaning….Man’s search for meaning through music.
My mantra is “trust the process.” If we trust in ourselves and in our psyche, then no matter what suffering or great success we may experience on life’s journey, we can search for the meaning of our experiences, through which we can grow into the person we are to be, and be alive and well and enjoy the fullness our whole Self can bring.