We are very pleased that the website GetPsyched published a guest blog from us about heavy metal therapy and Co-production here
We are delighted that Metal Music Studies (that’s a real academic journal, people!!!) published an article about Heavy Metal Therapy. It outlines where we have come from and the key theoretical ideas behind our project. We realise that not everyone will be able to access the full thing but here is the link:
Metal Music Studies is the journal for the International Society for Metal Music Studies, they have a cool webpage 🤘🏻
Play Crack The Sky
As a red blooded male with more issues than Marvel comics and it’s fair to say that I suck at touching emotions. Today I had a counselling appointment which went really well (and we all know really well= incredibly painful, upsetting and tiring). I hopped into my car and my head was swirling. Before I could drive I put some music on, music that fits the genre of Emo.
Generic Emo (not Ben) ^^^^^
In the early 2000’s there was a second wave of Emotional Hardcore or, as it became known as; Emo. The features of Emo are… hazy. Songs that include big shifts, build ups an changes, personal lyrics and mainly following punk chord structure but longer in duration. I am not in any way musically talented so that my best shot at describing it. As a fan of thrash metal at the time I looked down upon a lot of the bands and the fashion that came with the second wave emo.
This would change.
I went to Download for the first time in ’05 and was blessed enough to see Funeral for a Friend at their height of fame. They were superb, vitriolic, angry and they knew how to work the crowd.
My favourite bands from the era are the very vanilla Taking Back Sunday and Funeral for a Friend. Taking back Sunday ended up very pop, which is fine. ‘Brand New’ quickly became my favourite all time band. These artists did something for me that I, like many men struggle to do; give form to our thoughts and feelings.
These days I don’t gig much but I did see Brand New live a few years ago. I can count on one hand how many times in the last fifteen years I have cried but that night I sobbed my heart out to ‘SoCo Amaretto and Lime’. I screamed my voice to a whisper to ‘You Won’t Know’ and for a fair part of “Gasoline” I was, unbeknown to me or him, holding some random guys hand instead of my wife’s (She and his girlfriend thought it was hilarious and just left us to figure it out). It was cathartic, beautiful and I have never felt such a burden lifted from me. After my session today I listened to Limousine, a harrowing tale of a 7 year old girl fighting for her life following a road traffic accident. I finally hit that ‘gear’ of feeling therapeutically upset when ‘Jesus Christ’ kicked in, a song about someone feeling utterly unworthy in the eyes of everyone, including God.
Emo to me became a tool I used when the walls came up and I found myself cut off from feelings. Like all good metal it is cathartic, uncompromising and brutally honest. For me it’s been a wonderful accompaniment to counselling which as a therapy should be cathartic, uncompromising and brutally honest.
Now I’m off to balance it all with some Deftones and Queens of the Stone Age.
Turns out that 1 year ago today I created the Facebook and Instagram accounts for Heavy Metal Therapy so I guess it’s kind of our first birthday. Now, I didn’t really do anything with them for about a month, mainly as I just wanted to make sure I got the name before someone else nicked it! And partly because I was nervous about it (and there have been times when it has really challenged a few insecurities but that’s a discussion for another time). It was only really supposed to be a little Facebook group: it kinda is still a slightly bigger Facebook group, my original aim was to see if I could get 100 likes. But there have been a few milestones over this past year…..most of which were unexpected:
- About 4000 people now follow hmt on various social media across the whole world
- After the fb and insta pages came the website and logo and people generously gave designs I could use
- People started sending in their recovery stories and were open and brave and generally amazing
- Then people sent poetry and art too!
- It expanded further to blogs, articles, book chapters, conferences, posters 🤓
- I’ve collected some amazing roadies who advise on metal genres, help with social media, collaborate with me on stuff, contribute to the webpages and are generally giving of their time for free and for the love of metal
- I spent probably too many hours collating the heavy metal and psychology research for the website, sent tons of emails to various scholars in heavy metal studies. Some replied and I was lucky enough to meet a few of them too
- I had at least 3 freakouts about giving up the whole thing
- About 1000 leaflets have been distributed across loads of metal festivals thanks to the kindness of some key organisations like Sophie Lancaster Foundation
- People sent in nearly 200 song suggestions for playlists
- And now I have a grand total of 2 heavy metal therapy t-shirts as well 🤣
Just wanted to say thanks to everyone who believed in the project, put up with me droning on and contributed* 🤘🏻you guys rock 🤘🏻
*The big soppy thank you list –
Angela, Stevie, Danny, Anthony – you 4 especially
Mary, Rufus, Elisabeth, Dave, Sarah, Joel, Ben x2, Charley, Nick x3, Karl, Sam, Linda, Jen, Jasmine, Rosey, Andy, Dan, Andres, Heather, Amanda, Scott, Jennifer, Rich. The guys at Sophie Lancaster and Chill Welfare
Anyone who did a story, poem, blog or design
Anyone who read a draft of owt (Jurga, Mark, Cat, Charlotte, Paul),
Anyone who didn’t laugh in my face
I’m not crying, you are….
(image from greatnameplates)
This blog has some themes in it that readers may find distressing, triggering or uncomfortable with references to child abuse.
Ben Ryan – Metalhead Mental Health Practitioner
I said I would write about ‘Daddy’ the final song on Korn’s self-titled first album, and quickly regretted it. Not because Heavy Metal Therapy isn’t a wonderful site to write for and not that I don’t have a lot to say. No kids, it’s because even twenty years after I first bought that album, ‘Daddy’ never fails to make me feel upset or my skin crawl. For this reason it is one of the most important songs I have ever heard.
‘Daddy’ musically is very similar to much of the album but is a slower song. Heavy for sure but with a tempo and beat like heavy footfalls and the inevitability of something bad happening. It’s a filthy guttural song with grunts, growls and sobs to compliment the brutally honest confessions of a lead singer who as a child had been sexually abused.
Jonathan Davis was raped by his neighbour and his parents never believed him. The first part of the song is from the point of view of the abuser, messed up yeah?
“Little child, looking so pretty
Come out and play, I’ll be your daddy
Innocent child, looking so sweet.”
To form that kind of position must have been an incredible thing for Jonathan to do. Most reactions to abusers is that of disgust and to demonise. To put himself into the abuser’s shoes must have taken a heroic effort on Jonathan’s behalf. Performing this song was utterly draining for Davis and it took him years to be able to sing it live.
The second half of the song is Jonathan’s anger at his parents for not believing him. The anger appears to overshadow much of the actual abuse.
“I didn’t touch you there
Mama said she didn’t care
I didn’t touch you there
That’s why mama stopped and stared.”
As a younger man I misinterpreted this as him being sexually abused by his father, something like many naive minds I didn’t think was possible and is never talked about. I was dabbling with the idea of working in mental health and doing A-Levels in Theatre, English and Psychology. I had also read excerpts from Marilyn Manson’s biography in which Manson graphically described sexual abuse at the hands of his grandfather.
This-blew-my-mind. How could people have sex with children? How could someone have sex with a child they were related to? What the hell is wrong with people? Child abuse is taboo. It’s arguably more taboo than murder. In prison (or on the front pages of certain newspapers) it’s seen to be worse to have sex with a child than kill someone. The Office for National Statistics has only started asking the general population about the frequency of sexual abuse in the last four years.
As my career developed I worked more and more with adults whom had suffered sexual abuse and the majority was at the hands of direct or secondary members of the family. It’s horrific, but you are more likely to be raped by someone known or even in the same household as you than a stranger*.
It’s hard to hide the unease of this revelation. Social workers are taught to question children when the child cannot see them, ideally when driving a car or engaging in an activity. The reason is twofold: It encourages disclosure and the child cannot see the horror on the adult’s face, horror that cannot be hidden even by the most hardened social worker.
So I have probably hit a nerve here and likely caused discomfort, for that I apologise but that’s not the full story. See people recover from the effects of sexual abuse. People bounce back and get stronger. Inter-family abuse is more difficult because there are often conflicting feelings about the abuser. On one hand the abuser did what they did, but they might also have been a loving parent that the abused had some fond memories of. It’s also often the case that the abused remains in contact with the abuser. Early in my practice I sometimes found this client group frustrating to work with, but I was looking at things backwards. It takes time to get trust then effort to keep continuity of care. This is understandable considering the persons trust in any authority or caring individual has likely been shattered by their early experience. And here I was expecting an individual with that experience to instantly trust me. The more I understood the interaction between the abuse and the person’s presentation the easier things got. I have over recent years started to describe some of the difficulties that people who have experienced childhood trauma as like a ‘Survivor Syndrome’, I think it has a nice ring to it.
Society never really helped me get my head around child sexual abuse in my clients. The training I received, although excellent doesn’t touch on how often the abuser is known to the family or even a member. Heavy metal artists such as Korn, Marilyn Manson and a notable mention; Machinehead gave me a greater understanding of what the people I worked with had gone through. The songs I was listening to were more honest and brutally forthright than my training or society ever was.
I acknowledge the suffering the artists had been subjected to. I personally think ‘Daddy’ should be required listening to any mental health professional. It’s raw, uncomfortable and genuinely upsetting. It also points out the failings that people have in acknowledging child abuse. We are better than the past but the truth is we often don’t want it to be true. 3 in 4 victims don’t report abuse at the time because they feel embarrassed, humiliated or that they will not be believed*. As a society we still prefer bogeymen who steal innocence away. Not the truth which is that the abuser is just as likely to be a member or close friend of the family.
To summarise I would like to state that ‘Daddy’ had a huge impact on me. It challenged many of the beliefs I had around child sexual abuse. I also think it points out some of the barriers to reporting sexual abuse. Furthermore I think it is an excellent education in the thoughts and emotions that an abused child may be experiencing. It is a musical expert by experience, a brutally uncompromising guide to how to manage child sexual abuse.
Metal is full of songs about taboo subjects. Rarely has it reached into me and changed the very way I saw the suffering of others in such a profound way. I have heard criticisms that the mentioned artists are being self-indulgent and looking for to shock their audience… well, yeah. That’s what metal is about, getting in your face with issues both gripping and profound. Korn put a cathartic song about child sexual abuse on their very first album and it went platinum. Can you imagine Beyoncé or Ed Sheeran doing the same through the medium of pop**? Only a metal artist could pull it off. From an artistic point of view the song is sublime. It’s a beautifully hideous and will provoke emotion.
Have a listen and change a life.
This article was hard to write. I’m off to do something nice. If you are working with individuals who have suffered like Jonathan; be brave and ask the hard questions you amazing human being. If you have suffered; stay strong you bad ass survivor and remember; they can’t hurt you now.
** According to NME magazine Ed Sheeran is a big fan of both Korn and Marilyn Manson!
I am probably obsessed with King 810, I’ve been to see them 4 times and have a fair range of merch. I can recite their spoken word piece ‘a conversation with God’ off by heart (because you never know when you might be called upon to deliver an emergency bit of performance poetry). There is something about their music for me that feels quite raw and real, I can connect with it despite the experiences they describe being vastly different from my own. King seem to be like the marmite of metal, and receive plenty of flak from the media and critics, needless to say I’m absolutely in the ‘love’ camp, they are one of my favourite bands. So when David Gunn brought out his memoir ‘Summertime in Murdertown’ I was obviously going to have to get a copy – it took ages to arrive here in the UK but once I’d got it I read it in a day, and here are my thoughts on it.
Basically Summertime is David Gunn’s story of growing up in Flint in Michigan, facing deprivation and violence from the earliest of ages. What’s striking about his description is how disrupted and chaotic it feels, not to over psychologise it but there is no sense of ‘safe base’ when he describes his early life. The poverty is relentless; the violence starts to feel ‘normal’. He describes it in a matter of fact way, which made me think about people who have experienced ‘complex trauma’ (when bad things repeatedly happen) and how they may sometimes talk about the events in their lives. However, the thing that’s most interesting to me is how he describes the role of his music, at the start of the book he denies that there is any therapeutic effect, no ‘purge’ or catharsis, indeed it seems to be quite painful for him. But he is driven to write and share what it is like in Flint, and I wonder if through his music he connects to emotions that are otherwise pushed away (with good reason, detaching from feelings could be a survival strategy in situations such as those Gunn describes, despite this having potentially unintended consequences in other ways). He gives a nod to having faced some mental health struggles – self harm and suicidal feelings, though the emphasis on day to day survival takes understandable priority (Maslow’s hierarchy and all that). There are some things that are surprising and kind of amazing about Gunn, mainly emphasised in the contradictions in his account. For example, he talks about fierce loyalty, yet he doesn’t describe strong attachments, people seem to come and go; He says that writing and performing is painful, yet he pursues it with an almost relentless focus, indeed his ability to focus on his goals despite the chaos around him is remarkable; He was a straight edge drug dealer; He dropped out of school early but became an avid reader where the library was a sanctuary. Pretty much everything he does is self- taught and all of it is hard won. He talks about some of the reading he has done, particularly psychology and sociology, through which he gives some very astute (if partly detached) insights about his circumstances growing up. There are also some interesting cultural reflections about the band’s background being markedly different from most others in the metal genre. I’m struck by a conflict of pride about where he has come from but with none of the ‘I’m better off for my experiences’ stuff that so often comes with these accounts (indeed I have found that Gunn offers a refreshing alternative to the ‘positive re-frame’ of trauma into ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, I have read accounts of his where he describes the effect of his experiences and how it would be better if they hadn’t happened – which I imagine may resonate for lots of people who have experienced trauma). It’s also written in a way that I think will probably make sense to most people, which I’m all for, definitely worth a read.
More of you have shared some of your experiences with us, like this from Robert. This one is about how sometimes the family we grow up with can be tricky, managing physical health challenges and finding a supportive metal family…. Thank you for sharing.
“I used to get bullied and beat up tormented by alcoholism in my family and hated I alcoholics. I would still get verbally abused and would be bullied by my brother. Every day and night I would cry myself to sleep filled with anger, depression and suicide on my mind. I would listen to Five Finger Death Punch and Breaking Benjamin and it helped me to go to sleep to ease my mind and fight my depression only to get stronger. Now I still suffer a little depression but knowing metal is fucking there and my savior; its made me stronger till this day, in and out of the gym.
I had cut my foot on glass and had 6 months of recovery and 3 surgeries. Before and after surgery all i could listen to was five finger and it helped cope with the pain and the sadness and depression i went through while learning how to walk again on that foot, as well as dealing with an alcoholic father. I needed the help of metal to help calm myself from bleeding through the gauze. I suffered cut nerves,arteries, veins and a major tendon injury which i still have in my big toe so my toe drops but all that metal made me fight through the pain and make me become stronger.
Going to my first rock metal festival last year was a very amazing experience to show that metalheads take care of each other, replenish each other and apologize if they do something reckless. I met my first metal friends at that festival.”
Robert chose The Bleeding by Five Finger Death Punch as a song that means a lot to him, and also shared some very cool pictures 🤘🏻🤘🏻🤘🏻(you may spot Jose Mangin in that collection, ooh 😊). He also shared a pic of his foot 😳🤣
We’ve been squirrelling away here on a new section for our webpage because a few people have sent us some bits of poetry that we can’t wait to share with you. Therefore we are launching our first few pieces over the next few days in a poetry week of sorts. We’ll add the links as soon as possible to heavymetaltherapy.co.uk/poetry-and-art
We are happy to receive continued submissions as well, including art and lyrics
Very pleased that the online medical humanities blog The Polyphony have published this piece I wrote about psychology and heavy metal. Specifically it looks at how voice dialogue theory relates to heavy metal music, and some reflections on the early stages on the project. Take a look if you fancy: