How music can help you tune into your ‘emodiversity’
Music has long played a therapeutic role in Mary Hoang’s life. As a teenager, she wasn’t close to her parents, who were refugees from Vietnam and didn’t speak English. So instead of going to them for emotional support, she turned to music for comfort. “Whether it was on a dance floor or finding myself crying to music at night, it was my best friend.”
Hoang carried that love with her as she embarked on a psychology degree after finishing school. Once qualified, she decided to look for ways she could help people by using psychology in a less traditional format.
She wanted her therapy to be accessible to everyone, even those who wouldn’t normally feel comfortable seeking professional help. And so, with input from her partner, music composer Rich Lucano, she started running contemporary “sound baths” that utilised music as therapy. During these one-hour events, Hoang would dim the lights, burn candles and let instrumental or ambient sounds wash over people. She chose music that would “mimic the emotional journey of therapy”, taking people through sadness, curiosity, fear and hope.
Hoang is now the head psychologist and founder of The Indigo Project. She’s also the author of Darkness Is Golden: A Guide to Personal Transformation and Dealing with Life’s Messiness, a new book designed to help you break unhelpful habits and live life on your own terms.
The book pairs research in music psychology with audio experiences, accessible via QR code on your phone. “Many self-help books give us the ‘what’ without the ‘how’,” Hoang says. “The audio experiences take people through deep psychological processes by connecting them to their emotions.”
In today’s society, she says we often run ourselves ragged trying to chase positive emotions, like happiness, while actively avoiding negative ones.
But, she explains, feeling the full range of emotions – known as “emodiversity” – is critical for both physical and mental health. She says there’s enormous psychological comfort to be found in “accepting whatever emotion you’re feeling at the time, no matter how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ it may seem”.
Immersing ourselves in a world of sound doesn’t just allow us to tap into our emotions. It’s also good for our soul because it’s relaxing and can help us de-stress and even heal.
Hoang knows this first-hand, having plunged head-first into music as therapy to help her deal with her father’s death in 2017. “I’d go into a room and sit with an album for an hour and let myself cry. I found it easier to do that by myself than to openly grieve with my partner or with my closest friends.”
You don’t have to be going through an emotional trauma to benefit from the power of music, nor do you need to attend professional sessions. All you need to get started, Hoang says, are
“a pair of headphones and a quiet space”.
Once you’re in that quiet space, turn off your phone, dim the lights and close the door. Next, select your tunes. If you’re not sure what to listen to, ask yourself what you need emotionally. That might be a chance to cry, let off steam or just chill. Accept that you might be holding on to emotions that need releasing and aim to let them go.
Ideally, Hoang advises dedicating at least half an hour to actively listening to music as therapy. “People often need time to process their emotions,” she explains. “If you really want to go deep, you have to give it some space.”