How is Band Therapy like Family Therapy?

Musician Mental Health

Music has been an outlet and expressive vehicle for musicians’ lived experiences, thoughts, and feelings throughout history. Some artists explore their psyches through melodic dissonance and resolution or grapple with tough stuff in their lyrics. And others use their public platforms to talk about their mental health experiences, like in the documentary Selena Gomez: My Mind and Me, or in Born to Run, the Bruce Springsteen autobiography that digs into a tumultuous family history and his own decision to seek therapy and stick with it for more than 30 years. While music and individual therapy help one work through individual mental health issues, there are often other people involved in an individual’s artistic pursuits.

The Benefits of Playing in a Bandband stage blog

Making music with others can be very beneficial to wellbeing. Therefore, staying well while working in the field of music requires both self-awareness and relational skills. Being in a music group can provide artistic, social, and technical opportunities that an individual may not be able to achieve or experience on their own. Creativity requires vulnerability, and so when people create music together, they are connecting emotionally. Furthermore, collaboration on musical endeavors, committing to rehearsal and touring time, and going through the preparation for and rush of performances are all bonding activities that result in a powerful sense of community. In fact, many musicians claim that their bandmates are some of the most important people in their lives and consider them extended family. It is no wonder, then, that a band might experience some of the same dynamics as a family unit.

How a Band is Like a Family

Simply put, a band is a musical ensemble consisting of a group of people who make organized sounds by playing instruments and/or singing together. Bands can vary widely in size, style, and genre with members working collaboratively to produce a unified sound. Bands can be formed for various purposes, ranging from casual jam sessions to serious professional endeavors in the music business. Each individual is a musician in their own right and also a full person with their own personality, preferences, health, and illness. Each person in a band plays a role to contribute to the overall composition, arrangement, and performance of the music.

Band members spend a significant amount of time together, share common experiences, and go through challenges similar to those in a familial setting while also living their own independent lives outside of the band. family therapy blogThe interpersonal dynamics within a band are unique and sometimes very intimate because of the nature of what they have in common – their art. These emotional dynamics are also commonly wrought with external stressors like managing finances, scheduling practices, booking gigs and potential travel. Complex band dynamics and band differences are common because of how many factors contribute to overall band wellness.

So a band is more than just a group of individuals playing music at the same time. It is a closely-knit unit connected by circumstances and goals, rules and roles. In this way, bands are much like a family. According to The Bowen Center, “families so profoundly affect their members’ thoughts, feelings, and actions that it often seems as if people are living under the same “emotional skin.” This connectedness and reactivity make the functioning of family members interdependent.” Because music-making is such a vulnerable and emotional experience, it is common for band mates to become interdependent as well. Furthermore, “a change in one person’s functioning is predictably followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others” (Bowen, 2021). Band dynamics can replicate family dynamics.

The Benefits of Band Therapy

The most successful bands have a few things in common. One is a strong sense of camaraderie amongst members who have worked together over time and are loyal to the group. Members also have genuine respect for one another as individuals outside of the ensemble. When one member of a band is struggling – or thriving – everyone feels it. Successful bandmates also have a shared vision for their music and all of the parts that go into setting and reaching goals. Getting to this point requires a lot of development and growing together, which can include working through change and difficult situations.

Band Family Therapy or Band Therapy with a trained professional helps a band become more effective. Band Therapy can be a valuable tool for musicians to address interpersonal and band dynamics, navigate challenges, and foster a supportive environment for creativity and collaboration. It provides a dedicated space to open up communication, increase awareness or self and others, and build skills for healthy functioning.

Mixing (the music) Business and Pleasure

You may have heard that mixing business and pleasure is hard within family-run businesses, and it is no different with bandmates. Bandmates have multiple relationships with one another, often being friends, creative collaborators, and business partners. Toronto-based band VALLEY has talked about their experience with band therapy and how it helps them be better together: “It’s sometimes hard to separate friendship versus running a business and creating things…So the base is strengthening chemistry…and making sure everything’s brought to the table [in terms of] feelings and stuff like that. There’s a lot of resentment that builds up over time and you kind of have to work through it all. You have to make sure everyone’s as healthy and happy as they can be” (VALLEY: “Lost in Translation,” Band Therapy, and Group Cohesion”.)

Members of the band Boygenius have similarly been open about their experience seeking therapy as a band while reaching the height of fame in the music industry. Calling it “prophylactic therapy”, they attend therapy to protect their friendships and prevent new concerns that might arise when working through the creative process of writing an album and business of releasing it. “I was super anxious there wouldn’t be time to cultivate our friendship. I was precious and protective of it” (Koe). Both of those bands found therapy especially helpful prior to touring. Some bands even check in with their therapist while out on the road.

How Can a Therapist Help a Band?

Here are some of the common ways a therapist can help a band:

  1. Providing space for processing of emotions through healthy communication. By facilitating discussion and providing reflective feedback, therapists make sure all voices are heard. Vulnerable conversations help each member get their needs met and builds trust. Interrogating things like dysfunctional communication patterns and unhealthy interpersonal and family dynamics with a therapist also increases the capacity for healthy communication within the band.
  2. Building skills for conflict resolution. It is normal to experience conflict in any relationship, particularly when emotions are involved. Working through conflict to a point of resolution is important for the longevity of the group. A therapist can teach preventive skills to reduce conflict in the first place and interventions that help the band navigate challenges that arise down the road.
  3. Defining roles and responsibilities. Professional musicians often find themselves with an inequitable division of labor, which is often tied to ambiguity in any member’s role. As in a family, it is important to recognize all of the various duties and roles required for smooth functioning. Role clarity can be particularly important as bands go through various stages of growth and changes such as adding new members. Therapy can assist in navigating these transitions and adapting to change in a positive way.concert band blog
  4. Setting goals and expectations. Whether big or small, establishing clear goals and expectations for behavior is essential in bands. A shared vision and sense of purpose builds trust, excitement, and motivation in the collaborative process. Band therapy frequently helps bands break through blocks as therapists may introduce exercises and techniques to stimulate creativity.
    1. A personal anecdote: Learning about one another in therapy can be an interesting way for bands to develop new material. Once, in hindsight, a member of a band who had seen the author in therapy years ago reached out to say of their new release: “Therapy is great fodder for writing music. Thanks to you for your role in creating our new song.”
  5. Addressing individual wellbeing and effects on the group. Like in family therapy, therapy to address band dynamics considers each individuals’ mental health and overall wellbeing. Therapy can provide tools and coping mechanisms to help band members manage stress together and also assess the need for additional support beyond band therapy. When one person is struggling, it ripples out through the band. Recognizing each person’s needs makes individuals feel valued and buoys the health of the ensemble.
  6. Improving performance. The pressure of rehearsal preparation, live performances, recording sessions, and the expectations of venues and audiences can contribute to anxiety amongst musicians. A therapist can help individuals cope with performance-related issues such as anxiety, stage fright, and the stress of public scrutiny.

How to Find a Band Family Therapist

The best therapists for bands have two things in common: 1. The ability to navigate interpersonal dynamics and assess needs within a group of creative individuals, and 2. An understanding of the unique challenges artists may face as individuals and in an ensemble. It is important to directly ask about those two things when seeking support to ensure the therapist is prepared to appropriately support the entire group. These resources are created to link musicians to mental health services:

Dissonance: Get Help Directory, Minnesota

Backline, nationwide

MusiCares, nationwide

SIMS Foundation, Austin Texas

SMASH, Seattle area

Music Minds Matter, United Kingdom

Band Therapy is support provided by a licensed professional where a band can process emotions, define goals, assess the division of labor, and build skills for working together more effectively. Just as individuals engage in therapy for personal growth and development and families do so for the health of their loved ones, bands can benefit from therapy to prevent negative or unhelpful band dynamics or issues in the first place, work through existing concerns, and maintain a healthy group dynamic.


Blog written by Sentier therapist Sarah Souder Johnson, MEd, LPCC. Please contact our Client Care Coordinator, Ellie, at [email protected] to inquire about Band Therapy with Sarah. 

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