Substitute: Volume 1 – He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

October 24, 2011

And thus begins the series on lyric substitution!

(The header on this – Substitute – is a Gloria Gaynor/Ramones song, not to be confused with The Who’s song of the same title).


Today I had quite the enthusiastic session on the geri-psych unit.  The unit has twelve beds, and it’s not always full, so sometimes my groups are very small.  NOT TODAY!!!  Not only did I have 9 patients, but I also had 9 family members and friends (on this unit, visitors are allowed all hours of the day, and are encouraged to go to groups with the patients, when appropriate). I’m on this unit three times a week, and on Sundays (yuck), I usually lead a casual type of sing-along with some songwriting exercises blended in.  We sang some songs that patients suggested, and did The Great Day Song, which as usual got people talking, laughing and reminiscing.  A patient’s son, a jazz pianist, performed sporadic songs (that I didn’t know) and we all generally had a wonderful session that was low-key and flowed nicely.  At one point, a patient’s husband suggested the song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”  I of course know the song, and we sang the familiar verses, but I used it as an “in” for a second songwriting exercise, but just using lyric substitution.

After all the verses, I asked the group what else he has in his hands today, and over the next five minutes or so, I got a really nice variety of responses, and everyone in the room got involved and was supportive of one another.  Some of the suggestions I received were the following:

He’s got the Middle East in his hands…

He’s got the U.S.A….

He’s got all of the veterans…

He’s got [the hospital we’re in]…

He’s got the navy…

He’s got the Marine Corps…

etcetera, etcetera…

It was really nice to hear so many genuine responses so quickly.

Howevah – it’s not always that easy, and when it’s not, I try to find a more concrete question to ask residents or patients instead of “What else does he have in his hands?”  I sometimes ask each group member “who or what would you like to pray for today,” or “who needs a prayer?”  Often residents will name another person in the group, or themselves, and in that case, we sing that person’s name, and then we sing a verse about each person in the group.  They always seem so happy to hear their own name in a song, and many have told me how comforting it is to know that we were all singing a prayer for them.

        He’s got the whole world in his hands,

        He’s got the whole, wide world in his                       hands,

        He’s got the whole world in his hands,

       He’s got the whole world in his hands.

Because the song is so repetitive, it’s very easy to successfully use this lyric substitution exercise with a group of people with varying cognitive abilities.  We sing the substituted lyric for the first three lines, and finish with “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

Anyway, that’s all she wrote.  Today, I’d like to send a little friendly vibe or two in the direction of a resident I’ve worked with for several years and who is declining, somewhat rapidly, after four years of enthusiasm and an infectiously positive attitude toward everything in her life, despite hardship, loss and an aging mind and body.

Today, He’s got G. in his hands.


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