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Heavy Metal Therapy – Why Headbanging Is Good for You

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Heavy metal therapy (HMT) is an online resource, based around a website, and linked in to social media, for people who find heavy metal music to be beneficial for mental health and well-being. It has a range of examples of stories of recovery, playlists, reflections on research, art/poetry, and blogs – all to do with heavy metal music and mental health.

It’s not ‘therapy’ in the traditional sense. There are no formal interventions or weekly groups but it’s an online community that provides a place for people who are into metal music (in its many forms and we make a point of not discriminating or advocating one style over another) and who find metal useful in their mental health struggles or who use it as a means to overcome them. We’ve based it broadly on ideas from the ‘recovery’ movement and have a range of principles. 

HMT does, for those people that find these things interesting, and for our own development of the project, have research linked to it and that we use to support our ideas.

Peer support and using music therapy is well researched but there’s maybe not as much known about heavy metal and the way it can support people, indeed outside of traditional ‘music therapy’ interventions, not much is written about the use of music in everyday life as a well-being management tool.

We have been particularly interested in two key aspects of the research; that engaging with metal music may help to process feelings and that it has a value in terms of a sense of community.

In the past, heavy music has been stereotypically viewed by society (by those who aren’t keen of this type of music and the culture) as a potentially negative subculture or, as someone once suggested, ‘devil-worshipping noise’. However, as members ourselves of this subculture, we feel able to highlight to others that actually it’s generally an embracing, non-judgemental, accepting community where people find they can come and talk and share their experiences of mental health and related (or as we say, ‘metal adjacent’) topics.

We hope to have created that ethos over the social media pages which have become parts of a supportive community for metalheads. 

We share stories from people who tell us about how their social anxiety is something they can leave at home when they go to a gig because they know they do not have to act like someone who isn’t struggling and that unspoken nod of appreciation from someone about their obscure band t-shirt is an acceptance and support.

There are a range of experiences shared on the site. For some it’s about something which would be framed within mental health services as ‘psychosis‘ or other ‘serious’ mental health concerns, for others they have never used services and would not want to. HMT offers a place where people can share experiences and put their own take on what is happening to them.

As it’s peer support we love it when people choose to share their stories with us and we hope this means others are able to read the experiences of someone else and think ‘yeah that’s like me so I’m not alone’.

As the project has progressed, people have also shared with us their metal inspired art and poetry, that we proudly display on our website; and we’ve recently started doing a feature about heavy metal themed tattoos and the important meanings people ascribe to them.

But the idea behind it all is the same – sharing personal stories about how metal music did or does help people to stay feeling OK or how they use it to help them when they’re not doing so well. 

So this is where we are. We like metal, other people like it too and if nothing else after reading this we hope you feel the urge to go look at a metal list on Spotify or dig out some old CD’s and have a bit of a headbang if you’re having a rough day.

Angela Glaves is a lecturer in mental health nursing who also works in the NHS as a community mental health nurse for the crisis team and is an avid fan of metal music.

Dr Kate Quinn is a clinical psychologist working in NHS services in early intervention for psychosis. She is also a fan of heavy metal music.

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