Proud Mary

February 7, 2012

When I was in my internship, my co-interns and I learned a lot.  I’ll write more about that in another post, but for our purposes now, I wanted to share with you an intervention that we used in group sessions occasionally, which turned out to be something I use in my work now.

On Friday, my melodic music day on the psych unit, I decided that we would try songwriting.  I brought a couple of options just in case one of them wasn’t possible (due to low energy, or disorganized behaviors and thought processes) but I ended up having a pretty fabulous group using my initial plan.

The song is Proud Mary, and I use this as a group songwriting exercise, because most people I’ve worked with, no matter the age, know the tune and accept Creedence Clearwater Revival as an acceptable band to listen or sing along to.

When everyone had made it into the group room, we had a short check-in about why everyone was in the unit.  There were three patients with major depression, who were all undergoing ECT Treatments and one with psychosis and manic tendencies (who was in and out of the group).  All men.  I facilitated a conversation about who is waiting for them at home, how it feels to be in a locked unit, and what they hope to achieve by being there.  Then we started our song.

I sing the first verse of the song and one chorus with guitar accompaniment (encouraging people to sing along to get familiar with the rhythm and melody) and then repeat the first two phrases of the song…

“Left a good job in the city, working for the man every night and day”

And asked them to think of alternate lyrics, using what we had talked about in our check-in and pre-intervention conversation.  “What or who did you leave when you came to the unit?  What happened that made you come here? Now that you’re here, how are you feeling?  What do you hope to get out of being here?  What do you wish for yourself after treatment?”

I usually start the intervention by keeping the lyric,

“Left a ________ at/in/with (etc.)________,” and prompting the patients to fill in the blanks, and then just talk about what would come next as if we’re writing a story, rather than trying to rhyme and accurately fit words into the original rhythm.  If there is more than one suggestion, we have a vote.  We’re very democratic.  After each phrase is written, I play and sing what we have written, and the patients give suggestions about how to adjust rhythms and lyrics at that point.  While I no longer care about rhyming, my clients are usually sticklers, so if needed, I explain the original rhyme scheme if they want to do something similar.

Aside: On Friday, there was a Code Red in our building immediately after the first line was completed and we had to hang out in the milieu for twenty minutes while things got taken care of, (we continued to play music during that time) but surprisingly, that didn’t interrupt the momentum the group members had apparently gained.  We went back into the room, got right down to business and they completed the song – one verse and one chorus – in record time.

Anyway, I prompt and encourage as much as is necessary throughout our song, but I rarely suggest words or phrases, and somehow it always works out and the patients really enjoy it.

Here’s an example of something similar to what we’ve written (these are completely my lyrics, which I wrote in two minutes, but you’ll get the point):

Left my home by the water, I was feeling lonely and depressed.

Came here to find out what’s going on, and hopefully I’ll get a little rest.

Doing this for me and my family, trying to get better…

Better, better, better off forever.

When we’re finished, I have the group members suggest possible titles for our song and we have a vote to determine which one should be used.  The same goes for choosing a name for our songwriting team.  I then pull out my trusty MacBook, we record our song on GarageBand (as many takes as it takes) and I burn CDs for everyone, write the necessary information on the disks, and put the CDs in their “personal belongings bins,” as CDs are not allowed on the unit.

Someone asked me why after this session, and I had to explain that it’s the same reason that no one has shoelaces.  They seemed to understand.


What’s difficult about group songwriting in a psych unit, is that there are so many diagnoses to contend with, so writing a song that applies to everyone may not be possible.  In that case, we do individual songwriting using the blues, which I’ll write about in another post.


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