Music for the Mind: Songwriting is Therapy

By Alice Haldane

22 May 2024

A fine line exists between songwriting and journaling your thoughts when it all feels too overwhelming. Music is an escape for millions, but the act of picking up a pen and writing down your emotions through songwriting can be extremely therapeutic for some musicians.

According to Painted Brain, songwriting is a powerful form of music therapy. It not only activates parts of the brain involved in processing and regulating emotions, but it also has the ability to uncover difficult memories.

Sophie Cleaver, a 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Buckinghamshire, writes with an honest and cathartic approach. Her music is a little bit folky and acoustic, yet indie inspired by artists like Lizzy McAlpine and Billie Marten. “Raw is a good way of describing it,” she said. “If I write something I always think, what does this mean? I think about those Genius lyric breakdowns where artists sing their lyrics and explain what they mean. I think, what if I was on one of those videos, if I were to explain these lyrics, what would I say?,” she said. 

“Sometimes I struggle to process how I am feeling. If I write it down into a song, or make a melody that kind of represents how I’m feeling, it weirdly helps me process it all.”

Her songs often reflect how she is feeling at a specific point in her life. Recently graduated from university, her lyrics have been exploring themes of change and starting new chapters.

“I’m feeling like I’m being forced to grow up, like, I haven’t got any time now. I feel like I am all of a sudden an adult, even though I always have been. So, a lot of my songs have been about a kind of a reluctance to want to grow up because it’s scary, or not always wanting change,” Sophie said. 

Expressing her thoughts when she needs to the most, means reaching for her guitar, or jotting down words onto a piece of paper. It helps with compartmentalising thoughts better, and has become an outlet for her personal struggle with mental health. “I write a lot about anxiety. When I get anxious, I try write thoughts down which helps get it out there. And also because I’m extremely dyslexic, sometimes I struggle to process how I am feeling. If I write it down into a song, or make a melody that kind of represents how I’m feeling, it weirdly helps me process it all.

“I try to think of something I’ve written as a little poem. I want my words to still have a point without the music behind it. I’ve journaled before, and then I’ve looked at it, taken the words that I’ve written, and then reworded it in a more creative way to use for my music,” Sophie said.

Credit: Sophie Cleaver

The way a musician feels after writing and singing a song can vary. “Sometimes I have such a sense of relief, because I feel like I’ve let everything out,” she said. The emotional release from pouring out your heart can feel like therapy, but there are some occasions where writing can be too intense. “You’re just like, oh, that was quite a heavy subject, that took quite a lot out of me.  Afterwards, I might just sit by myself, make a cup of tea, and watch a comfort series, do something to make myself feel a bit better,” Sophie said.

Sophie spoke about recurring topics that come up when songwriting, sometimes even subconsciously. She pinpointed a memory in sixth form when she had to write a song for a drama school audition. The song captured her feelings towards her brothers autism and the impact it has. “Without knowing, I made up this story about this little boy who struggles to find his way in the world. It was about how he would wake up and feel scared all the time. He found everything really overwhelming. But he dreamt about being a superhero where he could do whatever he wanted, and be whoever he wanted to be, she said. 

“But when he wakes up, for some reason, he feels like he can’t. And then I kind of sat there and I thought, this is exactly how I feel about my brother. The song is about him, and I didn’t even realise,” shared Sophie.  

To express vulnerability in her lyrics in a way that feels safe and creative, Sophie creates a barrier through using certain writing styles when sharing her songs with the world. “In my head, I think of a metaphor. I think about if I was looking at someone else. Let’s say I walked down the street and I saw this girl sitting on a bench. And she was going through everything that I was feeling. What do I think she looks like? What do I think she’s going through? How would I describe her?” 

For Sophie, and many artists, songwriting is not just an art form, but a means of understanding the complexities of life and processing emotions. 

Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Tiktok for more content!

You may also like…
document.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded', function() { // Select all audio modules with the custom class var audioModules = document.querySelectorAll('.custom-audio-module'); audioModules.forEach(function(module, index) { // Create a container for the counter var counterContainer = document.createElement('div'); counterContainer.classList.add('counter-container'); counterContainer.innerHTML = '0'; // Append the counter container to the module module.appendChild(counterContainer); // Get the audio element var audio = module.querySelector('audio'); // Initialize the counter var counter = 0; // Add play event listener to the audio element audio.addEventListener('play', function() { counter++; document.getElementById('audio-counter-' + index).textContent = counter; }); }); });