Ep. 98 Transcription

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. I recently saw a statistic that really caught my attention. According to the World Health Organization, violence against women, particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence, is a major public health problem. About one in three 30 percent of women worldwide have been subjected to physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Wow, these are really sobering statistics. And tell me that this is a topic that touches all of us, because even if we are not a woman in this demographic with numbers that high, we are friends with a woman who is we are in their families. We’re co-workers, neighbors. Our kids are in school with them or their kids. My guest today is joining me from our neighbor country, Canada. Dr Sandi Curtis is professor emeritus in the music therapy program at Concordia University in Montreal. She is an internationally trained music therapist with more than 30 years experience in clinical practice, education and research. Dr. Curtis specializes in work with survivors of violence and is the author of the 2019 book Music for Women Survivors of Violence and How Women Can Use Music to Recover from the Harm of Abuse. Welcome to enhance life with music, Sandi.

Sandi Curtis: [00:01:37] Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

Mindy Peterson: [00:01:40] Sandi, premise of your work is that music and music therapy are particularly effective in helping women deal with abuse. Tell us what it is about music, what its superpower is that makes it so effective in this context.

Sandi Curtis: [00:01:56] Oh, and there’s so many super powers. First of all, of course, women, women are being shown to to be very responsive to the creative arts and particularly to music. But when you’re talking about women and girls, survivors of male violence, one of the big factors are tools that their abuser uses is to isolate them. And so music is a way to break that isolation. In listening to songs of other women and their experiences about violence, you know, women can think, oh, gosh, it’s maybe not just me, you know, Trisha Yearwood is singing about it, Lady Gaga singing about it. So maybe I can see that they definitely don’t deserve it. So maybe I don’t either. And then, of course, the harm is not just physical. Probably the most long standing issues are the emotional. Trying to recover from the harm to the self-esteem and music is a wonderful way for women to express themselves, to hear other women’s stories, but then to move to expressing that and telling their own stories through music and connecting with others. And it’s important for for survivors to be able to tell their stories because they’re either silenced by the abusive man or they’re not listened to or not heard by our culture at large.

Mindy Peterson: [00:03:20] Well, when you’re just talking, it really hit me the power that music has to reach people, even if they can’t be reached by human therapists. Because when I was thinking about the work that you do, I’m picturing you working directly with people, whether it’s privately or in groups. But as you’re talking about the music, I mean, this is something that women can listen to on Spotify from their home when they’re on lockdown and be affected by that in the ways that you just described, even if they’re not yet to the point where they’re able or open to meet with someone.

Sandi Curtis: [00:03:57] Yes, absolutely. There’s something about music. It impacts us on a physical level, on an emotional level and a cognitive level all at the same time. And that’s what makes it really such a powerful tool and personal transformation. And so, yeah, listening to music just on your own can and can certainly take you a long ways. In my book, I talk about how you could use it on your own or with meeting with other women and then also how you can work with a music therapist as well, because, you know, there’s some deep seated issues that need to be addressed that a music therapist can help someone keeping them in a safe space and containing their experiences and helping them sort of move beyond that. So, you know, we can move beyond that, just listening to music, which is powerful in itself, but then listening and talking about it with others or with a therapist and then to writing your own music as well. So there’s so many multifaceted ways that one can can connect through.

Mindy Peterson: [00:04:59] Music, yeah, tell us a little bit more about your book, it’s an e-book and it’s an interactive book, is that right?

Sandi Curtis: [00:05:06] It is. So it’s and it’s geared like to a number of audiences. One is to help music therapists and other help health professionals working with women survivors. But the other audience is just women out there. And you could think of women survivors of violence. But of course, as you looked at the statistics, so many of us are impacted. But even at those of us who aren’t impacted directly by overt physical or sexual violence at the hands of an abusive man, we all grew up in this culture that really is misogynistic, that objectifies women, were used as eye candy and music videos, you know, looked at for for what you know, we can do benefit man and not for our own rights and our own being. So so the music I include a variety of music. And as you read the book, you can pick and choose what you want to listen to. But there’s also readings that help us as women understand what it is like to be growing up female in this culture. You know, I think something as basic as body image, they say one third on any given day, one third of women are starting a diet, one third are ending it, and one third are thinking about starting on a diet. And the research shows that women’s perception of their body is much less than is merited. And men’s is much better than this marriage. Yes. Research. Yeah, yeah. It’s like, oh, I figure maybe learn a little bit about that. So it’s connecting all the dots that it’s not just intimate partner violence on its own. It’s not just sexual assault, it’s the objectification of women. It’s the, you know, the devaluation of women. It’s that very stereotypical gender roles that both not only women but men and anyone along the anywhere along the gender continuum, that they really do constrain us all. And so helping, you know, through the readings and then through the music to learn what it is to be female or male in this culture and then maybe to challenge that and change

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:11] It so the book can be gone through it. Someone can go through it individually on their own, or they could go through it in a group setting or a music therapist could go through it to get some more context and education to inform them and their work. Is that right?

Sandi Curtis: [00:07:27] That’s exactly right. And not just music therapist, but the other health care professionals. It’s important. We tend to think, you know, OK, if we’re working in a women’s shelter, then we know we’re going to bump into survivors of violence. But of course, so many of us are have experienced violence at anywhere you go, wherever you work, you may be bumping into survivors who haven’t maybe yet identified themselves because, of course, the shaming and blaming of women around this violence is so pervasive. But, yeah, so, so and I highly recommend it in small groups so much like, you know, the book clubs of the day going by Music Club, because the thing is that social isolation, if you think it’s just a personal problem, it’s just something I have to deal with. That’s one thing. And you’re not going to you know, it’s like moving around the chairs on the Titanic. If you’re within a group of women, you can be sharing and exploring your experiences is like, wow, this really resonates with me when you’ve gone through. And we can see that it’s not a personal problem that requires us to fix an individual man or woman. It’s a larger global societal problem where we really have to challenge and bring about change in societal structures.

Mindy Peterson: [00:08:36] Sir, when you do meet with clients, whether it’s in a group setting or one on one, tell us what music your music therapy looks like. How exactly is music used as a therapeutic tool in that context?

Sandi Curtis: [00:08:51] Yeah, yeah. I try to give you a picture and of course it’s hard because I work behind closed doors for the safety of the women, but I work in small groups, maybe five, five or six women. And then we start first by listening to other women. And I want to use women singer songwriters because it’s easier for for women to to see themselves. Sure. When they are hearing a woman and and hearing about a woman’s experiences. So we listen, sometimes I might bring in a song that I think might be appropriate for the for the group, but most often it’s guided by the individual women so they can go through you know, I have my my book on my on the iPad for all of these women. And so they can go through and pick and choose what songs resonate for them. We start listening and then we actually sing it ourselves because it allows you to internalize the meaning and the and the significance of the song and the lyrics. And then we move from that to beginning to write. And I’m there to give them the support because, you know, if you haven’t written a song, it might be intimidating. But so many women have written poems and journaling, and so there’s a very close connection. And so then we write the songs and each woman writes their own individual song, and there’s a long process to help them feel comfortable.

Sandi Curtis: [00:10:07] You know, when we listen to the singer songwriters, we listen looking not only their meaning, but also how the music works together so that they don’t think they have to write poetry. You can write something in very simple words, straight from the heart, like a Tracy Chapman song, which is which is very powerful and profound. So they begin to see that it can be in their own voice and that their own voice is important. And then we go to recording and I recorded either record it for them if they’re feeling shy or I provide the background and they add their and they record them singing. And that can be so powerful to hear your own, your own story, your own voice. I still think of this one survivor who, you know, I gave it to the wind back in the days when we used CDs and I gave her a recording, the CD, and she asked, can I have an extra copy? And I said, sure. She said, you know what? My abuser was my my uncle and half the family believed me, but half the family did not. So I want to take this to him. And she did. She took it to him. And I told him, you know, this is the truth and you know it and I know it. And so it very powerful for her.

Mindy Peterson: [00:11:20] Oh, wow. I imagine that is an incredible story. Well, one theme that I’m I’m sensing in your work is that it’s not only about healing, but in this next component is, I guess, part of healing, but it’s also about confidence and empowerment. And when people’s voices have been silenced, it is really empowering and breaks the isolation and brings confidence to have someone listen to their voice and just give voice to the experiences that they had. And it kind of reminds me a little bit of what veterans experience. There is another guest who is on the show a while back who has an incredible nonprofit called Creative Arts. And I remember him saying that one of the values of of music therapy is it gives veterans a chance to give voice to their experiences without actually getting into all the graphic details of it. And I could see this being a corollary with women survivors of violence. They’re able to express what happened without getting into the the nitty gritty details and graphic details of it. For example, with the veterans, they may have a lyric in the song about I lost my mind on the side of the highway. And to anyone listening to that, they could adapt that to sort of their own experience. They don’t know that the person writing those lyrics has very minimal short term memory because of a brain injury from an IED. And so I could see that being really similar with women where they can give voice to their experience without having to get into those traumatic details.

Sandi Curtis: [00:13:04] Yeah, and that’s that’s an important part of the power of music, that it can be very metaphorical. It could, yes. As you said, be very general and vague or it can be very explicit. Yeah, I think it’s as important as it is for the veterans, it’s equally for the women, because not only so often if they have to come forward, they’re asked to retell their story over and over and over again. And so, yes, that’s a marvelous be able to tell their story without having to prove to the world that they weren’t responsible. It wasn’t what they were what they did, that they can put it into song in whatever way, shape or form they like. And it’s similarly when you listen to music that there might be just one line in a song that resonates for you. And it may be the singer songwriter wrote it with something different, but it doesn’t matter when you listen to it. Yeah. You make you make the meaning of the song for yourself.

Mindy Peterson: [00:13:56] Yes. Well, and like you mentioned, that one woman shared it with her abuser. And I imagine even sharing I mean, that’s incredibly powerful. But I imagine sharing it just with your family, whether it’s your spouse that you’re with now or your children or whatever, it could be a really great way to express to them, in a way, what happened in a way that you’re able to. Now, I know that’s something that the veterans did as they shared their songs with their children or their partners and their children and partner said this is the first we’ve ever gotten them to share anything with us about what they went through because they just

Sandi Curtis: [00:14:33] Couldn’t talk about it. Yeah. And for the women I work with, when when it’s on it’s recorded, then they they can sort of give it to them and then protect themselves and move away if they need to and until they’re ready to talk about it. So, you know, you can take it at whatever level you want, at whatever speed you want

Mindy Peterson: [00:14:52] In these therapy sessions, do you see a lot of self acceptance and self compassion sort of emerge? To in this process,

Sandi Curtis: [00:15:01] Yes, and I think it stems, particularly in the group work that it is, is that they can see and have compassion for the others and then they can move that next step for self compassion and self acceptance. And that is and that is probably the longest, hardest journey for women survivors of male violence, because the abuser tells them it’s their fault and keeps them isolated. And then when women often step out and ask for help, health professionals or friends are not always that helpful. They say, well, what did you do? And you know, what’s wrong with you? And so that that self acceptance through music therapy sessions is one of the most important. And but it really speaks to the the power of music and to be ultimately to the resilience, great resilience of these women.

Mindy Peterson: [00:15:54] Mm hmm. Yeah, well, music can be such a bridge, too. It can be a bridge between our own mind and body, but can also be such a bridge between us as humans. What do you experience in terms of that bridge effect of music? Like when when you get with a group, do you find that some women, I imagine, would be really hesitant to interact and get involved? Do you find that some of that just sort of dissipates once the music starts playing?

Sandi Curtis: [00:16:23] It does, remarkably so. Some of the women expressed some reservation when they first started. I don’t know what this music’s thing. And then he got in it and it was like, you know, this started listening to the music and then all of a sudden doors opened. That wouldn’t have opened otherwise except for that music. And so a connection, a human connection between me and the women I work with and also between each of them, the the women in the group. I also remember one of the groups I was brought in to do at one of the shelters was with young teenagers. And they called me they asked me to come in because they said, well, you know, the kids, we’re really square and they don’t really want to talk with us. So I brought in the music, music and my electric guitar. And then all of a sudden they weren’t thinking they were in therapy. They were chatting with each other and listening to the music. And of course, that’s ultimately what therapy is is talking about with someone who can help you, sir.

Mindy Peterson: [00:17:21] Well, one thing I love about your work, it is it does bring the power of music that unleashes that power of music to bring healing and empowerment. But you touched on this earlier. You also see music as having the power to bring about cultural change and kind of countering that image of women as eye candy, objectifying women. Anything else that you want to say about the power that music has to change culture and sort of attack the roots of the problem of violence against women?

Sandi Curtis: [00:17:52] Yeah, and, you know, when you think about it, there’s not a single social protest that hasn’t involved music. Music. You know, this powerful was you know, we saw the Metoo movement with people bringing in songs and so we can actually reach out and tell stories to people who may not women survivors, but maybe men who can listen to women’s stories and women singer songwriters are becoming much more powerful. You know, back in the day, the very early days of music videos, it was all a male adolescent kind of music video. But now women are writing their own. Since then, women are writing their own stories and telling their experiences. And so it can challenge both men and women about how they see the world and how they think about it. I’ve got them on my website, something called the Beyond Me to Project, in which I put up songs, music videos written by women for people who haven’t experienced violence, and maybe even for men who want to be good allies to help them sort of become empathetic, helped them understand, you know, we grew up this culture that really does shame and blame women and even women. We grew up in this culture. And we might say, well, what happened? What did you do? Why did you wear that and why did you say that? And so it helps us like, oh, wow, I didn’t realize I had been taken over by this culture and was thinking the same thing. Yeah. So so it can change not only individual men and women, but it can change groups, men and women, and hopefully a culture to one of the women I worked with when she recorded her own song. We were at that same time preparing for a a take back the night event, which is to increase public awareness of violence against women. And she actually said, can I choose the song and have a song chosen that will be played at this event? I said, absolutely, and it was so empowering for her. But she was also becoming an advocate for other women as well.

Mindy Peterson: [00:19:50] I do have some female artists who are kind of your go to artists when it comes to their music and their music videos.

Sandi Curtis: [00:19:58] Oh, well, I. My book has over 200 some wonderful and I think that’s amazing. There’s that much out there. But I think by there’s so many I had to overlook that couldn’t be including the two. OK, so but you know that, you know, there’s Lady Gaga, Lizzo. There’s you know, I tried to get as much different types of music, so not yeah. I tasted music concerts. So, you know, I might like one thing and given my age and my cultural background and it might not be somebody else’s cup of tea. So and there’s, you know, maybe Chapin Carpenter, there’s Trisha Yearwood. There’s you know, there’s just so much out there that. So if you look at the book I’ve interactive, part of it is you can go in and pick. You can choose. According to the singer songwriter, you can choose according to the style indie pop punk pulque, or you can choose according to the theme. Maybe you want to, because it’s not just about songs about violence against women. It’s it’s songs about women’s empowerment. It’s songs about what love means for some women. It sounds songs about resilience and healing so that you can choose what you want to listen to and how you want to listen to it.

Mindy Peterson: [00:21:10] Wow, that sounds like an amazing resource. Well, you have links, a link to that on your website. You have a link to that beyond me to film that you mentioned to, too, on your website and lots of other resources in addition to those resources on your website, are there other resources that you want listeners to be aware of and that you recommend for women who are experiencing violence?

Sandi Curtis: [00:21:31] Yeah, and rather than give the whole list here, if they go to my website and watch the film beyond me to the very last of the film, as just before the credits come in, there’s a list of one 800 hotlines for survivors of sexual assaults or domestic violence. So that’s a good place and they can have it all there. They’re both in Canada and the United States. So there’s something there for everybody.

Mindy Peterson: [00:21:57] Ok, I’ll definitely find that and link to that in the show notes that people have easy access to that and of course, their website and book as well.

Sandi Curtis: [00:22:06] And could I interject just I want to say that, you know, we’re seeing a lot in the news during this pandemic of increased intimate male partner violence. And it’s hard for women to get out to get to safety because they’re locked down with their abuser. But, you know, to get the word out that, yes, you can get out there if you reach a shelter, they will be able to help you find a way to get out and get safe.

Mindy Peterson: [00:22:32] Great point to make there. Talk about what you see going on right now in the meta sphere, in our, you know, U.S. Canadian culture. Are we making progress? Are you seeing any trends or what are you seeing happening in that space?

Sandi Curtis: [00:22:48] That depends on the day, how I feel. Sometimes I’m very hopeful and maybe a cautious hopeful, certainly with the me, too. And now with the what’s called domestic violence in the news here, I’m hoping people will stop having to ask women to prove that they’re what happened to them is true and move to what can we do to change it that we can’t keep on living like this. So some days I’m hopeful, but it’s been a long battle. It’s been since, you know, before the you know, the 1970s that we were seeing these issues. They come up, they percolate up in the in the news feed and then they go down again. So maybe the only good thing out of the pandemic is that it will make people realize that we need to make a change. And women, of course, need to have change in their lives to heal on the recovery. But men need to make change. So if your abusers stop it, if you’re not, call out other men. If there’s sexist jokes, you know, locker room talk, those little things of the things that underpin the larger, broader male violence against women.

Mindy Peterson: [00:23:55] Mm hmm. Well, as you’re talking, it seems to me like there could be some real value to anyone who’s a parent looking at your book and looking at the meta urban meta film on your site just to be more aware of how they can be preventing problems down the road. Just in terms of I think a lot of things are so ingrained in our culture that we don’t recognize them for what they are when it comes to contributing to that culture. And so whether you have daughters or sons or both, I think it could be really helpful to to view that film and just be like, oh, OK, yeah, this is an issue and how am I addressing this in my parenting with my kids and preparing them for the world and shaping their view of of men and women?

Sandi Curtis: [00:24:44] Oh, that’s such an important, important point, you know, because I get frustrated when I see these, you know, videos on the Internet of, you know, fathers protecting, their daughters, caring, you know, realistically speaking, firmly to the boyfriend. Like, let’s raise the. Always properly, you know, rather than trying to, you know, lock away our daughters to find a way to be safe. I was reading, you know, just an interesting article where a woman saying my daughter has just turned 11 has asked me what to do when men catcall letters like, oh, so early. And yes, we need to help the daughters learn how to circumnavigate this world, but we need to teach the sons how to behave in this world as well.

Mindy Peterson: [00:25:27] Yes. How long is the behind me to film that’s on your website?

Sandi Curtis: [00:25:31] It’s about 40 minutes, OK. And then along with the film, there’s, you know, for people who just want to look at something shorter, there’s each of the five or six music videos and they’re about three or four minutes.

Mindy Peterson: [00:25:45] And those are included in the behind me to film.

Sandi Curtis: [00:25:47] Yes, they are. And one of the points of the army to film is to make it accessible, free online so that everybody can have access, whether they want to just use it for their viewing or whether they want to bring it into, you know, a book club kind of format, whether they want to do it as an educational thing at a school. So it’s all there free and ready for anybody to use.

Mindy Peterson: [00:26:09] Wonderful. It sounds like an incredible resource, and I’m definitely planning on watching it. Well, I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending a coda by sharing a song or a story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Is there a song or a story that you can share with us today as we close our conversation?

Sandi Curtis: [00:26:30] Yeah, I’m thinking of a song called To Be Free. I wrote it with one of the women at the women’s shelter, and it was such an I actually normally write songs with the women, but this one I had to write for her. She had been found by her abuser. And so she had to relocate for her safety. But she brought in because she brought in to that last time we met, she brought in a crime, judges from the newspaper that told her story that, you know, that he had attacked or jumped out of the car and beat her. And she said, I’m so mad because they talk on very impersonal terms of, you know, about my story. I want them to know my story. And this was the first time she’d ever been mad. She was always so shy. And it’s my fault. Maybe I did something, maybe I could be better. But this time she was righteously angry at this abusive boyfriend. And so I wrote the song with her words I put into song and I actually managed to follow her and give her a copy of it. It’s such a powerful song telling about women’s experiences of wanting to be believed and wanting to be let free from this violence.