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sk the Rock Doc 
Sound advice for musicians in distress 
By psychologist Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT 

I was reading your answer to the 'invisible dad' regarding his concern with the music his son was listening to...we are having similar struggles with our son as far as attitude and behavior go - and he listens to screamo - but says it is Christian - I try to be very open minded and liberal and like and appreciate many genres of music myself from Lifehouse to Phillips, Craig and Dean to United - but screamo just disturbs my spirit - it actually sounds demonic to me or what I have heard demons speak like...

A year ago, my son felt that God was calling him to be a youth pastor and a worship leader - he is a gifted guitarist - he wanted to go to Hillsong after high school...then we moved across the country - he agreed God was directing us and now he hates us for ruining his life - we have tried to be accommodating and understanding of his struggle but he is making life miserable for the rest of us...he now barely goes to school and has no plans for post secondary!
Our hearts are breaking. 

Mrs. M.O.S.S. (Mother of Screaming Son) 

Dear Mrs. M.O.S.S.: 

It's the Christmas season, and I've come bearing gifts (or, in the event that you don't like my songs, lumps of coal :).  In preparation for my typed response to your letter, I'd recommend that you listen to this song, and, if he is willing, also have your son listen to this song.  Please excuse me if the song is a little rough.  I'm up against a deadline, and I only had about 25 minutes this morning to write and record it:

Let there be Peace in Our Music (This Christmas) 
Words and music by Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT (c)2005 (registration pending) 
(free mp3 download to Phantom Tollbooth visitors) 

Also, here is a song I wrote and then recorded with my band, Practically Poetz.  It features Rod Marlin on vocals.  It speaks to your issue because it reminds us of God's omnipresence, in which He follows us everywhere we go, constantly offering us His comfort, joy, love and guidance.  When you and the rest of your family, including your son, moved across the country, God followed you, and He is every bit as accessible now as he was before you moved.  This song is called:

Words and music by Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka, Dr. BLT (c) 2005 
(free mp3 download to Phantom Tollbooth visitors) 

Okay, now I will address your concerns more specifically: 

As noted in prior letters, I never make an official diagnosis on a patient based on a letter.  I must see the patient as his/her psychologist before I make definitive diagnoses or even definitive recommendations.  So consider my clinical formulation and my recommendations as tentative, or as hypotheses if you will.  

First of all, I will address the Adjustment Disorder issue.  Your son is screaming out to you from the intersection of Music Ave. & Adjustment Disorder Drive.  My first hypothesis is that your son is suffering from an Adjustment Disorder, stemming from the inherently abrupt and often dramatic changes that accompany a geographical move.  Adjustment Disorders generally last up to six months, but they can last longer in individuals with preexisting psychiatric conditions.  I'm not sure how long its been since you moved "across the country, but moving "across the country" constitutes much more of a profound change than simply moving across town, or even moving to a neighboring city in the same state.  Furthermore, I would need to compare the environment you lived in before, to the one you live in now, to gain a more indepth understanding of the extent of the change.  For example moving from the city to a small, rural community or from a small, rural community to the city, represents a change that is more significant than simply moving from one city to another, or from one small, rural community to another.  

Symptoms of Adjustment Disorder vary, and they can manifest themselves in different ways, depending on the personality and accompanying predispositions of the afflicted individual.  They can include excessive anxiety, irritability, insomnia, depressed mood, and (especially in adolescents, who often manifest their symptoms in an atypical fashion): anger outbursts and hostility.  When it comes to spirituality, and when it comes to one's relationship with Christ, psychiatric disorders are like dark clouds that can prevent the light of God's truth from penetrating one's heart and soul.  If my hypothesis is correct (and, I could be wrong), then it is likely that your son is so overwhelmed with anxiety and other emotions he cannot sort out that he is unable to meaningfully reflect on his relationship to Christ.  I would recommend going through the yellow pages in your phone book, looking under Christian counselors or Christian psychologists, and finding someone for your son to see.  Since your son's problems have become family issues, and since at least some family members other than your son may also be experiencing their individual issues, I would recommend going in as a family.   I would also recommend that he see a psychiatrist to determine if he may benefit from psychiatric medication.   

Now, allow me to take a moment to address the music issue.  Christian artists have always been just one or two steps behind the rest of society when it comes to adopting the latest style of music.  It's not because Christian artists are square or nerdy, (though they may be, just like non-Christian artists may be). The reason is this: Just like you and I, they hesitate to jump in where angels fear to tread.  They wonder if the new sound of the music can possibly be transformed into something that could represent a vehicle to share the gospel.  In most cases, Christian artists have been effective in reaching lost souls and ministering to their brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what style of music they have adopted.  Screamo music, (a variation of emo) music may be a little more challenging than alternative rock or rap, for example, in terms of its transformation potential, because of the shrill vocal paroxysms, that can take on a distinctly demonic sound.  I'm not saying that it's impossible for a Christian act to also be a screamo act, but the Bible tells us that we, as Christians, will be known for our fruits.  If a particular Christian act is demonstrating that they also are afflicted with the same sorts of raw, disturbing emotions as non-Christians, then that is fine, but for the Christian message to come through, they must offer something more.  There must offer a light at the end of the tunnel in the darkest night.  There must be hope at the end of the rope.  There must be love that comes from above.  If we, as Christian musicians can't offer hope to a lost world, and, if we can't show them love, then we are nothing but chaff in the wind, or as St. Paul would put it, "...a sounding brass, or a tingling symbol..."

The songs your son listens to may be offering him a way to vicariously vent his feelings, but they may also represent a dead end for him.  I would recommend that your concerns about his music be introduced as a therapeutic issue.  Try to find out what your son is trying to communicate to you with his musical choices, and what role the music may play in offering him release, and/or in keeping him trapped in a cycle of hopelessness and helplessness.  As you may know, the type of therapy I offer to believers is what I call "psychoPRAYERapy."  This letter should not be considered therapy, but rather, a set of recommendations offered by a psychologist with limited information at his disposal.  But prayer works no matter how much information is available to the helping party.  So I will pray for your son, for you, and for your entire family this Christmas season.  May God silence the screams in your son, and make all of his God-directed dreams come true.  


Dr. BLT   

PS: If you're a musician in distress, (or a father or mother of a musician in distress), write Dr. BLT at 

Dr. BLT, aka Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, is a Christ-centered licensed clinical psychologist and university instructor who specializes in the psychology of modern music.  He uses his original songs as well as those of other artists to address the problems of his patients, including his biggest, sickest, most challenging patient--society.

His face and name recognition, particularly with teens, comes from his short part on a long Cake music video--the Cake video for “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” that earned the band a nomination for Ground Breaking Music Video of the Year on the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. 



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