Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors.
Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson, and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. My guest today is Brea Murakami, a board certified music therapist and the director of music therapy at Pacific University, Oregon. Brea earned her master’s degree in music therapy from the University of Miami and dual degrees in music therapy and psychology from Chapman University. Her clinical work has focused on older adults here in neurorehabilitation. Brea Hosts a music science podcast called Instru(mental) – fun to have a fellow podcaster here! – and writes the music therapy blog, I Am a Music Therapist. Welcome to Enhance Life with Music, Brea.
Brea Murakami: [00:00:46] Hey Mindy, it’s good to be here with you.
Mindy Peterson: [00:00:48] This show is all about the holistic power of music in our everyday lives, whether we consider ourselves musicians or not. We’ve talked to guests about how music can rewire our brains, enable traumatic brain injury patients to relearn how to speak, transform our experience at a baseball game, increase our athletic performance, process trauma, and develop leadership skills as some of the top businesses in the world. Our question today is: If music is so powerful, is there a dark side to this power? Does music have the ability to cause harm? You’ve done a ton of research on this topic. Can you start out by telling us how the subject first caught your attention and what piqued your interest in the topic?
Brea Murakami: [00:01:36] Sure, yeah. So I actually my interest in this topic came from being a music therapist. This actually was something I was never this was never a conversation in any of my classes. But as a music therapist, I did a lot of advocacy work because I want more people to have access to music therapy if they’d like to. So this is my interest in this topic actually came to a gotcha question when I was doing it wasn’t really it wasn’t meant to be a gotcha question, but I was doing a hill day where a me and a bunch of other music therapists were at Springfield, Illinois, the capital, trying to get this five minute meeting with my legislator. I got the meeting and we were pushing for a music therapy license. And my legislator said, yeah, so a license is about protecting the public from something. What kind of harm can music do? What’s what’s the harm if someone is using music without a board certified license? And, you know, I had been practicing for a few years, but I really didn’t know how to answer. I had not been given the language for how to talk about that into music therapist. And to be honest, it’s not really obvious how music can be harmful or a negative force. Yeah, a lot of music therapists like, hey, music can work for everyone potentially, which is not untrue. But we also I think really I’ve come around to thinking that the deciding factor for music therapists is our ability to recognize harm when it’s manifesting or the potential for harm and being the best music health care professionals to respond to that appropriately.
Mindy Peterson: [00:03:16] Well, I honestly never thought about that question either until a recent podcast interview with Dr. Kimberly Xenomorph. More shout out to her for inspiring. This topic is great. She brought it up, brought up the recent research on the topic, and that really grabs my attention. And when I started poking around on the topic, I realized there’s actually a term music induced harm. It even has an acronym I teach and do term. So tell us, what are some of the negative manifestations of music’s power?
Brea Murakami: [00:03:50] Yes, and some of what I was like doing my literature review and I’ve created my own model called the Music Therapy and Harm Model about clinical applications of music. But there’s not a lot of published research out there. Some of the most stark examples of harm that I found in my literature review were about music being used as a torture device and Guantanamo Bay, and it was actually used as a torture device.
Mindy Peterson: [00:04:16] So because reason then, I mean, this isn’t back in ancient times. I mean, this is definitely. Huh.
Brea Murakami: [00:04:22] Yeah. Yeah. So music was used as a torture device. It was being played for prisoners like twenty four hours a day at levels of eighty five decibels, which is like if you’re standing on the side of a freeway with the traffic going by and it’s really loud, that is safe for us to hear for about eight hours a day. But it was being played around the clock and the music they were playing was interesting because it was things like the Sesame Street theme song or like Western metal music or something like that. So that’s very culturally unfamiliar.
Mindy Peterson: [00:04:57] So when you said 85 decibels, is that comparable to what you described as the level of sound standing close to a freeway?
Brea Murakami: [00:05:05] Yes, it’s like a very loud city. Traffic is about eighty five decibels.
Mindy Peterson: [00:05:09] Ok, so was this music played at Guantanamo? Was that causing hearing damage or was it just torture for other reasons or both?
Brea Murakami: [00:05:18] Yeah. So from what I can gather from some of their articles that have been published on this, the point was to sensorially deprive the prisoners from being able to hear their own thinking so that they it would cause some kind of psychological dissociation. And the idea was that it would get them you know, it would make them easier to air quotes break when they were being interrogated later. So either just to overload their sensory system with just too much energy, listening to really loud music for too long of a time, and also using culturally unfamiliar music as well. So there’s it’s happening on a lot of different levels.
Mindy Peterson: [00:05:57] Interesting. So the culturally unfamiliar music you mentioned, Sesame Street and the heavy metal, are there psychologists who are selecting this music?
Brea Murakami: [00:06:08] I don’t know too much about that. I don’t know what kind of secret CIA documents there are about that.
Mindy Peterson: [00:06:16] You’re not on those classified release?
Brea Murakami: [00:06:19] No.
Mindy Peterson: [00:06:19] How are you?
Brea Murakami: [00:06:21] I’m not in that group. But I think it’s kind of intuitive, though, that a lot of us don’t enjoy. We don’t find listening to metal music pleasant, even though there are people who find it very peaceful and just, I don’t know, even like children’s theme songs are super annoying, like the Caillou theme song. So I think I have to guess these decisions are being made on a more intuitive level. But when you reverse engineer it, it’s not just it like and just loud music in general can be super annoying, even if it’s our favorite music or if it’s being played on loop.
Mindy Peterson: [00:06:52] So that’s really interesting to think about as a parent, because I interviewed Laurie Berkner, who is a children’s… Do you know who she is?
Brea Murakami: [00:07:00] I’m starstruck. Yeah. Big deal in the kindie world. Yes.
Mindy Peterson: [00:07:06] Well, she saved my sanity when my kids were little because most kids music just drove me crazy. And now I have research into how to go to prove that it really can drive you insane. And Laurie’s music was different. I mean, I loved listening to her music, and as soon as I found out, I was like, OK, this is what you kids are going to be listening to.
Brea Murakami: [00:07:24] Yes.
Mindy Peterson: [00:07:25] So, boy, tell us about some other negative manifestations of music.
Brea Murakami: [00:07:29] Sure. So as a music therapist, you know, music is such a multifaceted, meaningful stimulus to a lot of different people on both personal and more biological levels that are more commonly generalised across everybody. So if I play really fast music, everyone, no matter what cultural background, you’re going to come from your heartbeat, your respiration rate, you’re probably going to start rising a little bit. So there are some pieces of music that can be harmful. More on that kind of universal, basic biological mechanics. So, like, just playing really loud music can be really stressful for people. Or if taken to some kind of really big extreme, it could induce hearing loss or, you know, I work with older adults and so a lot of them have hearing aids, but some frequencies are amplified with that. So if I play a recording and it’s got really high violin strings or something, that could be really annoying. And it’s not necessarily that annoying part that’s hard. You know, defining harm. Right, is a tricky thing in general.
Mindy Peterson: [00:08:37] Yeah, actually, I was another one of my questions is how are we defining her? It sounds like this. It’s not physical injury. It’s more of a psychological or emotional injury. Is that
Brea Murakami: [00:08:49] Correct? Yeah, I am getting a paper published about this this month, actually about. Yeah. So I can tell you my working definitions for harm and this injury for a clinical music therapy session so people can take from it what’s helpful. Sure. So for me, I think that harm can manifest in two ways physical harm and psychological harm. So physical harm would be a negative experience that one of my client’s attributes to something that happened in music therapy, the music or some kind of therapist interaction, and there’s some kind of biological basis or it manifests in our bodies or some kind of physiological system like music induced hearing loss from listening to too much music that’s too loud for too long of a time. And that negative experience in music is not seen as conducive or helpful or supportive of the underlying reason for being in therapy. Because as a therapist, you know, sometimes I have to introduce uncomfortable experiences to my clients or sometimes I have to introduce. Challenging experiences, maybe if anyone’s been in therapy and there’s times when I’ve cried in therapy and it doesn’t feel pleasant to feel good in the moment, but that cathartic experience, I know later, looking back, that was in service of me processing that emotional stuff.
Mindy Peterson: [00:10:16] Ultimately, it advances the clinical and therapeutic goals.
Brea Murakami: [00:10:20] Absolutely. So there’s some kind of point to it. Harm, on the other hand, or those negative experiences that don’t really have any point. And that, of course, is really subjective and might be seen from different ways.
Mindy Peterson: [00:10:33] I thought it was sort of interesting. I read an article from the L.A. Times that was talking about sort of using this harmful effect, in quotes to your advantage. It was an article about how some businesses and public places have noticed that teenagers that are troublesome tend to really dislike classical music. And so they would actually play classical music in public transit stations, public libraries, malls, even certain McDonald’s and 7-Eleven to actually repel troublesome teenagers gathering. Whereas I thought, boy, that is really interesting and apparently it works. It’s like chemical free off or deep for unworldly teenagers.
Brea Murakami: [00:11:23] Yeah, and that comes from, you know, more of a psychological association with the music. It’s not like a Mozart concerto, the acoustic energy coming from that into our ears, it’s harming our body. But there’s some kind of like, oh, I know. Thank you. Yeah. It’s from more of a psychological association with classical art music.
Mindy Peterson: [00:11:43] Yeah. I guess there were a couple of theories. One theory was that the teenagers just don’t like that music. And so hearing it suppresses dopamine. And so as they fall, they move elsewhere to try to get those moods back up. And then another school of thought was that the classical music has a very soothing, peaceful effect. And so it kind of dissipates that aggressive and destructive behavior, the impulses. So that was kind of interesting. You talked about crying during a therapy session and how that can be cathartic. What are some ways that music can bring up anxiety or floods of emotions or memory triggering in in ways that are not helpful to that underlying end goal clinically?
Brea Murakami: [00:12:30] Sure, yeah. So that would be psychological harm, which is some kind of negative effect that isn’t helpful for some other purpose in our life. So that might look like crying or having maladaptive emotion regulation or something like that. And that’s I think where I see most of the harm or potential harm coming up in my practice. That can look like I have a friend that worked with a client that had been in ABA therapy. ABA is ABA is a type of behavioral therapy that’s often used with autistic individuals called applied behavior analysis. So it’s like a lot of rote practicing of social behaviors. And it’s been criticized in the therapeutic community for not being very client centered and just saying, hey, you need to make eye contact with other people because that’s what’s seen as normal in Western society, rather than thinking, is there an actual need for this behavior for these clients? So see how autistic individual, my friend was a music therapist working with him. But this client had received EBE therapy previously and the ABA therapist was trained to use music as some kind of reward and so had to use the client’s favorite music after their ABA therapy sessions. Unfortunately though, that negative pairing of I don’t want to do this kind of session or this makes me uncomfortable. The client’s preferred music became conditioned to be negative because it was always paired after an unpleasant experience for that client. So when my friend, a board certified music therapist who’s in the know, was trying to assess their music preferences, they said, Oh, this is my favorite music. But also I don’t want to listen to it because it was kind of weaponized. It had been paired with this negative stimulus over and over and over again. So it took a lot of the pleasure out of it for them.
Mindy Peterson: [00:14:25] Oh, interesting. I’ve read about something called emotional flooding. Can you give us an example of how that can happen? I wasn’t totally clear on what that looks like in a situation where someone could hear music and it can just bring such a flood of emotions that it’s not helpful. It’s counter helpful.
Brea Murakami: [00:14:46] Oh, absolutely. Yeah. This actually happened to me when I first moved to Portland. So I was at a cafe just there to get some work done. And I had just had all these transitions in my life. I had. Through a pretty traumatic breakup with a romantic partner, I had just moved to this new city and I went to this cafe and they play this John Mayer song called What Is It? I can look up the title, but they start playing the song. And I just hear this, like, little whistling line. And I actually listen to that music all the way up on my drive up to Portland. It had been like my own kind of personal processing of that of that story, of what that relationship meant. And then I heard it in this completely different context. And I just could not focus all of a sudden. And it was still kind of a fresh wound. So I don’t I don’t think I got teary eyed or anything, but it really just stopped me in my tracks. And at the same time, I felt kind of silly about I was like, oh, well, you know, they’re not trying to play harmful music to me on the radio. And it just it really surprised me how wow this. I had only listened to it for my own personal processing. And then I heard it in this completely unrelated environment where I didn’t have control over whether it was played because I felt like, oh, that’s going to be so dramatic to, hey, I really need you to stop playing the song. So I kind of just sat with it and they ended up playing the whole album, which had other associations. But I think that would be an example of emotional flooding because, yeah, sometimes we listen to music to process these really personal narrative life transitions. We encounter them outside of that expectation of, OK, I know I’m going to be thinking about this person. All that imagery of what they look like, of the details of all that kind of stuff can come back really quickly.
Mindy Peterson: [00:16:42] Yeah. Have there been many studies done on music, increasing aggressive behavior? Because some song lyrics are very violent. And I think about kids or adults for that matter, who are playing violent video games. To me, it’s not really a stretch that that would increase violence. I don’t know if it does. I don’t know if research supports that. I haven’t dug into that at all. But it seems logical to me, and it also seems logical to me that if individuals are listening to music that has violent lyrics, it could definitely lead to an increase in violence. Tell us about any research on that topic.
Brea Murakami: [00:17:20] Sure. So I’ve heard there is a study that’s been done where they brought folks into the lab and had them listen, I believe, to heavy metal music and then their measure for aggression because, of course, music and harm is super hard to study in an experimental way at all where you’re like, oh, I’m going to assign you to harm somebody I’m sure or like that is ethically a no go.
Mindy Peterson: [00:17:46] Well, and I said to that can be hard to establish causation, too, but yeah, I keep going.
Brea Murakami: [00:17:51] Yeah. Yeah. Without that, you know, true randomisation. So anyway, I’ve had people listen to either heavy metal music or some other kind of like high arousal music I believe. And then afterwards they had all the participants, they did a little bit of deception and said, oh, you know, the music experiment ended early. Would you mind helping us prep for this other hot sauce experiment? And so they said, OK, here’s this cup of water. We’re going to be inviting people into the lab that do not like spicy things. You decide how many drops of hot sauce are going to be in this water, but another participant will have to drink. There was no other actual experiment, but they counted the number of drops of hot sauce that people put into this cup of water as their proxy measure for aggression. So they’re in that study. There was findings that people were more likely to put more hot sauce into that after listening to heavy metal music. OK, I, I, I don’t know. I think that there’s a lot of issues with that study. And there have also been other studies where fans of heavy metal music actually get feelings of tranquility and peace. And I don’t remember if they chose folks that always listen to metal music or if this was just kind of like, oh, we’re going to make you listen to that, because I don’t personally prefer metal music. And I can kind of feel myself get that kind of itchy feeling like, oh, this sounds really unsafe or overwhelming to me. So I can imagine I’d act a little differently if I listened to that for ten minutes straight. I don’t want to have that get overly, you know, for people that choose to listen to that and have that be like very meaningful to them. I don’t know if we can quite make that connection over one study suggested.
Mindy Peterson: [00:19:42] Well, it sounds like that study was really focused on the music itself and not necessarily violent lyrics. In fact, with heavy metal music, most of the time, you can’t understand the lyrics. Absolutely interesting. Are you aware of any studies on that are more focused on violent lyrics? Or not?
Brea Murakami: [00:20:00] Yeah, I went to a conference a few years ago where they were looking at pairing violent lyrics with like high arousal music. So music that’s really dissonant, really loud, has kind of distorted timbres. But they actually had problems finding some kind of control condition where there was violent lyrics, but more Kalim laid back kind of thought. And so I actually went up to them and I don’t. So people are looking at that and trying to separate out the lyrical content from the actual music, acoustic content. I don’t quite remember what their findings were, but I actually went up to them after and said suggested like, have you looked at hate music before? Because they hate music songs that sound like kind of laid black bluegrass like a genre or country western or something. Yeah, but there’s these really violent like stereotypical words against marginalized communities. So I don’t know if they took that suggestion, but that might be one way to kind of interesting.
Mindy Peterson: [00:21:07] I had one of those sessions, another type of music I had never heard of until preparing for this conversation was drill music. It’s a subgenre of rap music and it’s used by gangs to communicate violence toward police and other gangs. And they’re the lyrics. It is the type of rap, but the lyrics are definitely a part of it. And they talk about power and drugs and things like that. Anything else you want to comment on about Deyrolle music?
Brea Murakami: [00:21:38] I’m not familiar with that song. Leave that there.
Mindy Peterson: [00:21:42] Ok, well, we’ve talked quite a bit on the show about the benefits of music for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Have you seen the flip side of of that with this group where music increases any aggressive behavior in that group?
Brea Murakami: [00:21:58] I haven’t seen it increase aggression, but I can tell you about a time when a music so I was leading a music therapy drumming group at a day program for adults with Alzheimer’s disease. So nobody lived there. But it was a pretty big program. There might have been like twenty five to thirty clients and staff members. So everyone has a drum or some kind of shaker. And I didn’t know it at the time because I was busy facilitating. But one woman who was sitting on the outskirts actually misattributed all of the drumming and just the high energy music she was hearing. She thought she was hearing gunshots and that she was being shot at. So luckily, one of the staff members was really attentive and saw that this woman was kind of getting agitated. And she I don’t think she had any kind of military background that I knew of. So that was just kind of but, you know, I think that’s totally understandable. There’s a lot of just loud, sudden striking noises happening. So they recognize that asked her, hey, would you like to go into a quieter space? And so they did like an individual, quiet, calming activity as far away from where we were drumming as possible. So these harmful reactions or responses don’t always have to be predictable. And they can be based on things that, you know, just an association that someone makes. But folks with dementia might be a little bit more confused. So it can be really unpredictable at times. So it’s really important to be to know that that’s possible as a music therapist and then to recognize it and then say, OK, what about this situation might be responsible and then trying to minimize that as much as possible. So just I think the musical intensity and the timbre of the drums was responsible. And they told me after and I thanked them profusely for sure eating
Mindy Peterson: [00:23:51] Well, told us just a little bit before I let you go hear about your conceptual model, your article that’s coming out this
Brea Murakami: [00:23:57] Month. Yeah, it is called the Music Therapy and Harm Model. It says that there are six potential sources of harm, at least within a clinical music therapy session. It doesn’t quite generalised to any possible music experience. There’s three main ingredients in any music therapy session, a client, a music therapist and some kind of music. And then there’s these relationships between them. So between the client and the therapist, there’s a therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the music. There’s some kind of therapeutic application or intervention or structured activity of the music that the therapist is facilitating. And then between the client and the music, these are the music client associations, then the client’s own preferences, the client’s favorite instruments, that kind of thing, and then surrounding all of these these ingredients and these relationships are just the cultural environment, the ecological factors that are all there. So like the. Terms of racism, systems of ableism, that cultural associations that the client and the therapist both have and their identities, so all of these sources except the client, can be potential sources of either physical or psychological harm. So I can give you another example. So like the environmental factors, I was working once in a hospital and I got a referral for an Orthodox Jewish man.
Brea Murakami: [00:25:25] And so in the morning, I just went to check in with him and say, hey, this is what music therapy is about. Would you like me to check back on you later? And I think it was some for pain or something like that. Luckily, his wife was there and so he said, oh, yeah, it’d be great to come back and check on me this afternoon. And she actually followed me out of the room and said, hey, I just wanted to give you a heads up. In our culture, it is not allowed for men to hear women singing. So it’s totally fine if you bring a guitar or recorded music, just please don’t sing or hum. Good to know alongside ya. And I was really thankful that she caught that because if I hadn’t known that I didn’t work with too many Orthodox Jewish clients, that I could have potentially harmed the client and put him into an awkward situation based on his, you know, the cultural meaning that his identity derives from music and what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.
Mindy Peterson: [00:26:24] Oh, yeah. Well, when your article is published, is that something I can link to in the show notes for listeners to check out?
Brea Murakami: [00:26:31] Absolutely. And I’m very excited. It’s going to be open access, so it will never be behind a paywall and it’s also going to be in English and translated into Spanish as well.
Mindy Peterson: [00:26:41] Wonderful. Well, I will be sure to include a link to that in the show notes. And actually, probably by the time this releases, it will be available. So listeners can definitely look for that. Right. Well, thank you so much, Bree. This has been so interesting and informative. I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending coda by sharing a song or a story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Is there a song or story you can share with us today?
Brea Murakami: [00:27:08] Yeah, I was thinking about how you know, why I am a music therapist and what I love the most about my job. And one of those things is getting to know people’s background music is something that I use to kind of narrate my life. A lot of the music I listen to the lyrics probably have something to do with like what’s going on in my life outside of that. So a few Christmas, several Christmases ago, I actually asked all of my family members to tell me the title of a song that was personally really meaningful to them. And I recorded like acoustic versions of me singing it. And then I gave CDs out to everybody with everybody songs on it. So it was just this wonderful family memory where we kind of played it on the back on in the background while we were having appetizers and opening presents. But like my dad shows, what a wonderful world, I think a really meaningful story. And so every time a new song would start our family like, oh, Brea, whose song is this? And someone like raise their hands and like, tell the story about why they had chosen that song and the meaning behind it. And it was just such a lovely way to get to know these people I had known my entire life, but in a new way that they probably wouldn’t have had an excuse to talk about if not through music.
Mindy Peterson: [00:28:28] I love the idea that was so neat. I love gifts in general, I guess gifts, maybe one of my love languages if people are familiar with that book about the lovely wishes, but I just think it’s so cool to come up with ideas for gifts that don’t necessarily even cost anything but have so much meaning and there’s so much thought and intention that goes into them. And I feel like at different points in my life, the low cost or even free gifts has been so important, whether it’s because you’re young and starting out and don’t have any money. Now, I have kids in college and I’m like, don’t spend money on me. You know, it would be nice if you put, like, some kind of thought into a gift for me, but don’t like five dollars max or free, like just don’t spend a lot of money. But then also when you have young kids, it’s like, you know, I don’t have any money. And if you can put something together as a gift for Father’s Day or something like that, that’s free or inexpensive. And I just love this idea so much. I need to remember this because I did put together a gift episode last year at the end of the year. And I need to include this idea in my mind next year, the gift of. So if you’re OK with me stealing your idea and including that
Brea Murakami: [00:29:44] Anyone is free to adopt this idea, what in whatever way makes sense because it was just so meaningful and these conversations came up that wouldn’t like people were talking about other loved ones who had passed away. And the song was kind of in remembrance of them. So, you know, take it and run with it. I really enjoy connecting with my family in that new way.
Transcribed by Sonix.ai