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Music Therapy: How Making Playlists Can Uplift Our Mood

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

Ever get a song stuck in your head and decide you want to hear it right now? Music has a unique ability to capture and express emotions; sometimes these are emotions we want to prolong, and other times we'd rather get out of that mood. Just like improving your water intake, utilizing grounding techniques, or getting out into nature can improve your mood, so can the right playlist of songs.

Enter music therapy. I've had the honor of working alongside dozens of music therapists over the years, and the progress I've seen them make with clients was astounding. One friend and colleague, Katherine Borst, practicing out of Daytona Beach, told me about a technique called the Iso Principle. The term was coined by a music therapist in the 1950s, and refers to matching one's current mood with a song, then slowly altering the feeling of the music over the course of an entire session to achieve a desired mood.

This is something you can also do yourself. Take a deep breath and note how you're currently feeling. Be honest with yourself. What's a band or song you can think of that matches this mood? This will start your playlist. As you add the next few songs, it's important not to move too quickly toward a happy or calm "desired emotion." The idea here is to send yourself the signal that it's okay to be in a crappy mood. You may only slightly alter it from 10/10 rage at the beginning of the playlist, to standard anger in the middle, and ending the mix with immense frustration. And that's alright. Baby steps!

The benefits can extend beyond simply emotional: there can be notable physical changes too, like improvements in blood pressure and heart rate. Another tip on the Iso Principle is to keep the playlist somewhat short. Maybe 15-17 songs, or an hour in length. This is intended to provide yourself with a check-in break and the end of the hour.

Your mood may even change more quickly than the songs on your playlist: staying patient with the process is key. For example, I had a client who was in the middle of the grief process. She started an Iso playlist with some metal tunes from Exhorder, slowly added in some punk like Descendents, and ended with a more classic rock Jimi Hendrix vibe. This process also included nods to some of the favorite artists of her lost loved one. Soon she found that by the time she got to the punk section, she was already feeling better, dancing and remembering her loved one playing the guitar.

For more information on music therapy, reach out to us or contact Katherine Borst, MT-BC at

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