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Catering for different religious backgrounds/Not using offending topics by Sarah Wilson (Quench Arts’ Wavelength Music Leader)

Catering for different religious backgrounds/Not using offending topics in music sessions within the mental health sector

Religion and religious festivals can be wonderful for some but not for all. They are emotive, fixative and connective. They can evoke strong memories, provoke heavy discussion, connect and divide. There is also a deep connection between music and religion which holds a great deal of power. For all these reasons it is best to try to leave religion and religious festivals out of music making with young people who have mental health support needs.

It is easy to think that writing a song based on a particular religious festival would be a really engaging thing to do with a group of young people and whilst this may be true for some members of the group, others may find that it brings up strong memories of people or events that are connected to that time of year or the doctrine and rituals that are associated with that festival. There may be members of the group who feel strongly about other religious beliefs or other religious festivals and therefore feel excluded or ignored. There may also be members of the group who are averse to anything religious or become suspicious that there is an underlying religious agenda to the session. Whilst this may not become apparent during the session it may still cause problems for the individual or for the group relationships and dynamics. It should not be the case that the group leader is seen to support one set of beliefs above another if we are to foster inclusivity, freedom of thought and the open flow of creative ideas. 

We should aim to create an environment where young people can express assert and explore the ideas that they are having about the world without feeling restricted by any perceived boundaries of religious belief. 

This exclusion of religion can be difficult to navigate if it comes up naturally during a session. In Group sessions we should try to encourage the idea that religion is personal and that everyone is entitled to their own belief system whatever that may be. We should aim to promote the idea that we are not including religion or religious belief in our songs and creations because its inclusion can exclude those who don't agree with us not because anybody's beliefs are wrong.

In individual sessions it can be harder to justify the exclusion of religious lyrics and other content. I try to get people to work in a more generic way explaining that their music is likely to appeal to wider audiences. In my experience, though, it is important that we don't force a young person not to explore and express religious ideas. Some young people handle it really well and find strength and support in their beliefs, some however find that it connects with their psychosis or memories that trigger their depression etc and this like any other mental health trigger must be recognised navigated with care and flagged up so that the young person gets the necessary support.