Strategize Your Catharsis

Seventeen self-care strategies focus on the cathartic experience, through instruction in the eCourse “Making Music Medicine” . Through online psychoeducation, danger zones of music listening habits are taught to increase personal awareness of preferred music’s impact on behavior, mindset, lifestyle, physiology and emotions.  Then, ensuing education builds intentional choices and sequences of music selections to impact emotional moments of deep insights which can lead to positive changes in life.

This goes beyond remedies touted by many popular articles citing playlists to manage emotions. Playlists brimming with sad songs, energy producing music, or calming meditative selections may only work in the short-term, and are not as comprehensive as the Music4Life Music Medicine Protocol.  Offering a person-centered approach, the protocol merges neuroscience, psychology and music therapy principles into a coherent Music Medicine Pill. This special formulation is a specialized playlist embedding a specific Mood Sequence Formula to optimally order emotions with related mood music for the ultimate cathartic experience targeting not just short-term, but long-term benefit.

Certain types of Exposure therapy are critical elements within the Mood Sequence Formula to effectively reduce unsettled emotions such as anxiety, anger, depression and sadness. The American Psychological Association cites exposure therapy as a psychological treatment to help people confront their fears. Psychologists refer clients to the Music4Life Music Medicine Protocol as a program that provides a safe way to elicit and shift emotions that have been stuck, suppressed or repressed, exposing them in a healthy way to help break patterns of avoidance, fear, anger, depression and grief. In this form of therapy, music therapists create a safe environment in which to “expose” individuals to music connected to experiences of those unsettled emotions. This exposure to unsettling situations in a safe environment helps reduce the unsettledness through a special pacing, or sequence, which allows for emotional processing.

Exposure therapy has helped phobias, social anxiety disorders and panic disorders. Here are several variations of exposure therapy which an attending psychologist can help determine which strategy is best. These include:

• In vivo exposure: Directly facing a feared object, situation, or activity in real life. For example, someone with a fear of snakes might be instructed to handle a snake, or someone with social anxiety might be instructed to give a speech
in front of an audience.

• Imaginal exposure: Vividly imagining the feared object, situation, or activity. For example, someone with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder might be asked to recall and describe his or her traumatic experience in order to
reduce feelings of fear.

• Virtual reality exposure: In some cases, virtual reality technology can be used when in vivo exposure is not practical. For example, someone with a fear of flying might take a virtual flight in the psychologist’s office, using equipment
that provides the sights, sounds, and smells of an airplane.

• Interoceptive exposure: Deliberately bringing on physical sensations that are harmless, yet feared. For example, someone with Panic Disorder might be instructed to run in place in order to make his or her heart speed up, and
therefore learn that this sensation is not dangerous.

Exposure therapy can also be paced in different ways. These include:

• Graded exposure: The psychologist helps the client construct an exposure fear hierarchy, in which feared objects, activities, or situations are ranked according to difficulty. They begin with mildly or moderately difficult exposures,
then progress to harder ones.

• Flooding: Using the exposure fear hierarchy to begin exposure with the most difficult tasks.

• Systematic desensitization: In some cases, exposure can be combined with relaxation exercises to make them feel more manageable and to associate the feared objects, activities, or situations with relaxation.

Exposure therapy is thought to help in several ways, including:

• Habituation: Over time, people find that their reactions to feared objects or situations decrease.

• Extinction: Exposure can help weaken previously-learned associations between feared objects, activities, or situations and bad outcomes.

• Self-efficacy: Exposure can help show the client that he/she is capable of confronting his/her fears and can manage the feelings of anxiety.

• Emotional processing: During exposure, the client can learn to attach new, more realistic beliefs about feared objects, activities, or situations; and can become more comfortable with the experience of fear.


As Exposure Therapy relates to the Music Medicine Protocol, the benefits listed above for habituation, extinction, self-efficacy and emotional processing, are evident in clinical treatments when working with a music therapist. Specially chosen music can stimulate imaginal and interoceptive exposure which is strategically ordered within the Mood Sequence Formula by a music therapist to expose and flood unsettled emotions addressing positive outcomes to reduce PTSD and trauma reactive conditions. It is critical that the ten music elements (referenced in the Music Medicine Boot Camp and certification trainings at, particularly “duration,” is optimally adapted to ensure the person is not re-traumatized from flooding unsettled emotions such as anxiety, anger, depression and sadness.



American Psychological Association (July, 2017). What is exposure therapy. At:

Cherry, K. (August 20, 2022). What is catharsis. At:

Moore, L. (February 25, 2022). Anxiety can lead to irrational fears: Here are 5 ways to cope. At:


Today’s article was written by our Guest Blogger:

Judith Pinkerton, LPMT, MT-BC

Licensed board-certified music therapist