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The Role of Music in Counseling

Theologically rich worship music can become a friend that is with our counselees in the times between meetings.

Apr 8, 2021

Music is one of God’s great gifts to man, believer and unbeliever alike. Martin Luther went so far as to say, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” I meet very few people who do not have a great love for music, or at least strong opinions on the topic. Its ability to speak to our hearts, influence our emotions, and give us an avenue to express ourselves is really quite astounding.

The Lord has used it in such special ways in my personal walk that I find it working its way into my counseling also. Here are a few thoughts on why it is such a useful tool for ministering to hurting people.

1. Music Speaks to Our Deepest Emotions

Music has an indescribable capacity to reach beyond our minds into our very souls. Sometimes words sung can take on a reality of their own, becoming even more believable than words spoken. We see the power of music playing out in the very throne room of heaven. Nearly every time we are given a glimpse into this sacred space people are bursting forth into song, almost as if it’s the only way to express the magnitude of emotion they feel (Revelation 5:9; 15:3; 19:1, 6).

As counselors, we would be wise to follow suit and utilize this powerful tool. Undoubtedly our counselees are already in a very emotional position once they’re sitting across the desk from us in the counseling room. They are experiencing a whole litany of emotions from anger to sorrow, fear to shame. The emotions are already there, our challenge is to help them harness and channel them in the right direction. This could look like supplying them with good music suggestions during the counseling session or handpicking and sending them a song when they’re in a low place and struggling during the week. This is a way we can “encourage the fainthearted” and “help the weak” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) on the days in between meetings.

2. Music Channels Truth into the Mind

We only have a relatively brief window to share biblical truth with a counselee each week. This is precious little considering the input they’re getting from other sources the rest of week. Feeding them solid worship music to listen to in between sessions is one way we can help the truth of God take root in the soil of their hearts outside the counseling room. Consider some of these lyrics, and the truths that we desperately want our counselees to have a hold on.

“Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow…great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”1Chisholm (1923) Great is Thy Faithfulness.

“When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast. I could never keep my hold…for my love is often cold…He will hold me fast.”2Habershon and Merker (2013) He Will Hold Me Fast.

“Stronger than darkness, new every morn, our sins they are many, His mercy is more.”3Boswell and Papa (2016) His Mercy is More.

It has often been observed (usually in negative situations) that if someone hears something long enough, they start to believe it. We can leverage this. Give your counselees songs that are saying the same things about God that you are telling them in the counseling room. The more they are hearing those truths said and sung, the more their hearts will warm to the reality of them.

3. Music is a Means of Acknowledging Sorrow

Sometimes our role as a counselor is helping a person grieve properly—maybe the death of a loved one, perhaps just the grief of a sin-broken life. Counselees need to be able to express their grief, and we counselors need to help them, and grieve with them. This is not always easy, so we can enlist the help of music. Music validates our emotions. We hear someone sing of their sorrow, and it reminds us that it’s ok to feel that same emotion. David is our example in this.

“My tears have been my food day and night…These things I remember, as I pour out my soul…” (Psalm 42:3-4)

These grieving songs of his tell us it’s okay to cry, even uncontrollably for long periods of time. It’s okay to not understand. It’s okay to ask God questions. It’s okay to not feel happy. Our counselees need to know this.

Give a grieving counselee songs that are raw and honest to help them express their emotions to God.

“I’m tired, I’m worn, my heart is heavy…my hope feels crushed by the weight of this world.” 4Ingram, Owen, and Donehey. 2012. Worn.

Give them songs that, at the same time, turn their heart to God in expectation of what He’s doing.

“I know that You can give me rest, so I cry out with all that I have left, ‘Let me see redemption win, let me know the sorrow ends, that You can mend a heart that’s frail and torn.’” 5Ingram, Owen, and Donehey (2012) Worn.

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4. Music Ministers Outside the Counseling Room

Theologically rich worship music can become a friend that is with our counselees in the times between meetings. Sending a struggling counselee a well-timed, thought-through song in the evening when they’re discouraged, or in the morning on a day you know will be challenging can be a way of showing love and compassion even from a distance. Give them something to listen to in the quiet of the night when their thoughts start spinning.

“By day the LORD commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” (Psalm 42:8)

5. Music Reminds Them They Are Not Alone

As they hear others sing about the very same pain they feel, they remember that they are not the only ones. Through music you are introducing them to “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) whose lives are a testimony to God’s faithfulness. These testimonies can be invaluable and provide tremendous encouragement.

Before there was time, music accompanied Christ as He imagined and created the world (Job 38:7). One day music will herald in the new earth at the beginning of eternity (Revelation 15:3). What a great gift we’ve been given! May we help our counselees experience it even in the midst of sin and struggle.