American Prison Therapist Shares How Music Can Help Treat Depression


It’s no news to us that the United States prison system is critically fucked. While only 5% of the world’s population lives in the U.S., we house almost a quarter of the world’s prison population. We spend over $80 billion a year on a system that fails so mierably that 77% of prisoners are re-incarcerated within the first five years of being released. I could go on, but you can read up on Incarceration in the United States if you really want more depressing statistics.

If you’re in prison, it’s pretty much a given that you’re going to be experiencing emotional turmoil at some point. With very few resources available to prisoners to handle these negative feelings, Ultimate Guitar writer Justin Beckner suggests that music could be the key to helping inmates productively deal with depression and other mental illnesses.

Beckner recently shared his experiences as a Recreational Therapist for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, with a focus on Music Therapy. “My job as a Recreational Therapist is to use music as a tool for cognitive development and restructuring,” Beckner describes of his work with the inmates. “Topics such as confidence, perseverance, motivation, stress management, patience, goal setting, adaptive mindset, stepping outside of your comfort zone, being open to new ideas and structures, personal and creative growth, coping with failure, are just a few topics that can be pulled out of the simple act of playing a guitar.”

In conditions where people are confined to 6×8 cells with no view to the outside world, where every detail of their lives are dictated by superior forces, it can be life-changing for inmates to have some sense of control and fulfillment despite their surroundings. “When you give someone in an environment like a prison a guitar and teach them to play it, you have given them a tool for self-expression, a creative outlet, an identity, a voice.” Music therapy can also give prisoners the means to address past trauma and build coping skills to break the cycle of self-destructive behaviors.

Some inmate favorites include “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, “All Apologies” by Nirvana, and “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes. Beckner also notes that “Smoke On The Water” is a popular request, but he tries to avoid it as much as possible. “After you’ve heard that riff played poorly for hours on end, you just don’t want to hear it anymore.” I can’t say I blame him.

Read the full article at Ultimate Guitar.

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