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Using healing sounds in addiction recovery

A hand is touching the front screen of an iPod with an aux cord plugged into it that is laying on a wooden table.
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VPM News Focal Point
Research shows music therapy can help those in addiction recovery.

Music has the power to heal. Recent studies show that music can have a profound effect on people. Not only can it shape our personal and cultural identities, but it can be a mood regulator.

A 2022 review of music therapy found that music can be used to help in addressing serious mental and substance use disorders.

In Roanoke, one music therapist, who specializes in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music, is providing people in addiction recovery with the chance to feel whole again.


JIM BORLING: How recovery is going for you?

KEYRIS MANZANARES: Linda MacDermott and her music therapist, Jim Borling have been meeting for 20 years. Each one of their sessions starts like this, setting an intention.

LINDA MacDERMOTT: My first session was, I have a hole in my soul and I feel like I just feel like I have a hole in my soul. And so, kind of that was the intention to see what's going on. That's the best I could do. So, I grew up, through my childhood every type of abuse that can happen, happened. And I learned at the age of probably 10 and a half, 11, to keep a liquor bottle in my room. Because when I drank, did a shot of liquor, I didn't have to feel what had just happened or deal with that. So that continued on. The main drugs I used were marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol. But I wasn't opposed to trying anything else as well. But that was my staple drugs.

KEYRIS MANZANARES: MacDermott says she never thought music could be a healing agent until she met Borling.

JIM BORLING: I'd always been interested in music as a child, and I can tell many stories of even being a child when I felt the expansiveness of music. I didn't have the vocabulary to describe that but I realized there's something really special here.

KEYRIS MANZANARES: Borling has been a music therapist for close to 40 years. He specializes in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music which was developed by music therapist, Helen Bonnie.

JIM BORLING: So, the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery in Music is in its simplest terms, it's the combination of non-ordinary states of consciousness. And we could say that's deep relaxation kind of an expanded sense of awareness, an intention that is a purposeful reason for entering into a session. Music, which is basically classical music that may be Beethoven or Bach or Mozart, could be Chopin or Sibelius or some intentional contemporary music. And the interaction of the guide and the traveler or the therapist and client in a way that encourages the spontaneous flow of imagery from within.

KEYRIS MANZANARES: Borling holds contracts with local recovery facilities in Roanoke, Virginia where he helps those battling addiction with the emotional and spiritual aspect of their recoveries.

JIM BORLING: So, we're really working with expanded layers of healing that are profound and particular to the human experience. It might even take you to elements that we could call transpersonal, that is connection with something greater than ourselves. I can tell you that people with addictions are absolutely searching for that.

LINDA MacDERMOTT: Sometimes when it would get really intense the music would be like these drums and really loud and you could just feel it through your whole body. I mean, I remember we had an hour session and I think it went over a little bit and I thought we were only doing it for five minutes. It was just incredible. So, there's a lot, if you're open to it and you can just relax and bring it in. And then, what it does is it just kind of stays with you. In the next two or three weeks you can feel the difference in the shifts. What it means to me, to the core is it saved my life. It saved my life emotionally. It gave me a place to start in a safe environment and a safe place to start being able to look at some things and to be accepting and to meet who Linda was. I didn't know who Linda was.

KEYRIS MANZANARES: Reporting for VPM News Focal Point, I'm Keyris Manzanares.


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