This is Your Brain.  This is Your Brain on Romance.

Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni, J.D.

Imagine the scene: a group of women sits around a living room commiserating with one of their own who has just experienced the worst break up ever. Between spoonfuls of ice cream she sobs, “That jerk! How did I get into this mess?” Imagine that one of her friends pats her back and says, “There, there, it’s not your fault. It was the dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin talking.”

A young man once asked me, “Do you believe that people fall in love?” My answer left the poor lad a little crestfallen. I told him the truth: people experience something that they describe as falling in love. But, really, they are experiencing a series of chemical processes in their brains that are similar to the chemical processes that occur when one takes cocaine. It is temporary, it doesn’t last, and as high as one feels during the chemical rush, that’s how low they feel when it is over.

Before you write me off as a cynic consider this. I’m not saying don’t fall in love. Perhaps it is better to avoid cocaine, but do fall in love. As the anthropologist, Helen Fisher, explains in this TED talk, these chemical processes are vitally important to the survival of the human species. But knowing that the experience – that awesome wave of euphoria that renders everything about the object of your affection golden and glorious – is actually a chemical high can be very important. It can allow you a tiny window of opportunity to insert some objectivity into your headlong rush. All the excuses you make for behavior that you would never tolerate in someone else? It’s the chemicals talking! Be certain that those things will drive you bonkers eventually. So, see whether you can think through the chemical haze and consider: when I am sober, can I live with this for the rest of my life?

Helen Fisher.

Music for Your Heart

Yvonne Quilop, MA, MT-BC

Music Therapy is part of a family of creative arts therapies like drama, dance/movement, art, and poetry therapy.  It was established as an academic field of study at the University of Michigan in 1950.  A trained music therapist uses therapeutic methods that have been proven to be effective to meet the client’s goals in therapy.  Of course, what makes music therapy unique is that music lies at its heart.

Music therapy is different from many other therapies because it its focus is a non-verbal method.  People who resist or dislike other types of therapy – perhaps because they feel reluctant to talk things through – can find satisfaction in music therapy.  Music therapy allows participants to feel safe as they engage and communicate with others and receive the therapeutic benefits of interacting socially without having to talk about themselves.

The Power of Music Therapy

Most of us innately understand the power of music.  It affects our feelings and our moods in fundamental ways.  We deliberately select certain kinds of music for certain settings.  Music is usually an essential part of our formal rites and ceremonies such as weddings, graduations and funerals.  D.J.s at clubs and private parties can make a very decent living by choosing the right combination of music to pace a party well.  One episode of the television show “Friends” has Chandler Bing attempting to set the mood for a romantic Valentine’s evening with his beloved Monica by playing a mixed-tape that his ex-girlfriend made for him – with hilarious results.  Many people in love will agonize over the soundtrack for their private romantic dinners on Valentine’s Day.  We use music to find peace when we’re in turmoil and comfort when we grieve.  Non-verbal music can often express what words cannot and so cut directly to the emotional heart of the situation.

Music therapists harness music’s power to effectuate change and, as the American Music Therapy Association states in its definition of music therapy, “. . . [use] evidence-based interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”  Music therapists have studied the research that shows, for example, that rhythm can improve physical functioning for people with physical disabilities, and singing can improve memory and cognition for people who battle dementia/Alzheimers.  Making music in a group, an inherently social activity, can increase group cohesion and build a sense of belonging.  And, of course, music is self-expression.  Communicating musically is not only about the words of the song it is about listening to others when we make music in groups, and it is about being heard.  Many people use music in their spiritual lives to connect with the divine, with each other, and/or to a greater whole.

The Therapeutic Experience at Home

Many people use music therapeutically without really thinking about it.  Individuals and couples can use the principles of music therapy to achieve wellness, to alleviate stress and promote relaxation.  Listening to music and actively making music are two ways to create a therapeutic music experience.

If you choose to listen to music, a few tips can improve your self-directed musical experience:

  • If possible, find a quiet room, hang a “do not disturb” sign on the door, dim the lights, turn off your cell phone, or better yet, leave it in another room, and find a comfortable chair to sit in.  Let the music play and put your attention entirely on the music.
  • Consider using familiar music, which tends to be more relaxing than unfamiliar music.  Avoid music that you may associate with negative experiences and memories.
  • Experiment with different musical genres.  Classical, jazz, new age and music specifically designed for relaxation are all great options.
  • Music with vocals may serve as a distraction.  Try listening to both music with vocals and music that is purely instrumental and note your level of relaxation after listening to each.
  • Research shows that music with speeds of 50-60 beats per minute are most effective in a achieving a relaxed state.  Try to find music with a tempo within that range.

Ultimately, choosing music you enjoy will be most helpful.

Drumming is a popular option for those who choose a more active form of music making.  It is also a therapeutic experience that couples can participate in together.  Drumming has been shown to reduce stress and drum circles are a particularly good way to engage in active music making with others.  Some people gather informally in a drum circle to play hand drums, such as the African djembe, and other percussive instruments.  There may or may not be a formal leader of the drumming.  The goal is not to learn and perform music; no skill or experience is required.  The goal is simply to enjoy the pleasure and release from stress that comes when human beings create rhythms together.

Singing in a group is another way to actively engage in music and be therapeutic at the same time.  Although many of the more formal choruses require some singing ability, many choirs, especially community choirs, welcome anyone wishing to join, regardless of ability.  Incidentally, vocal warm ups, part of all choir rehearsals, incorporate deep breathing.  Deep breathing assists the body in moving into a relaxed state.  Additionally, one can benefit from a sense of mastery that is achieved through the work of learning a musical piece.

Each person can enrich his or her life through these musical experiences but being in music therapy can further enhance the therapeutic benefit.  As with all therapies, having a trained professional to guide you can be immensely helpful.  No musical skill is required.  The therapist will assist you with clarifying goals for therapy, introduce musical interventions that will best help you reach those goals, and support you throughout the process, musically and verbally.


To find a music therapist in your area visit

To find a drum circle near you

To find a choir near you

Yvonne Quilop MA, MT-BC is a board certified music therapist with many years of experience working in the mental health field.  She  recently took on the full time job of raising her newborn daughter, and lives in the Washington D.C. area with her husband, daughter and grey tabby, Ollie.

Romancing the Mediator: How to Find The One

Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni, J.D.

In business it is called “The Right Fit”.  In intimate relationships it is called compatibility.  No one is the best candidate for every job and one person might have a fantastic romance with one person and yet completely fail in a relationship with a different person.  Relationships with mediators can be the same.

Mediators have different styles of practice.  Of course each individual mediator brings his or her own unique brand of personality to mediation.  But the mediation profession recognizes broader generalized categories.  It is important to know what these general categories are so that you can explore your own preferences and ask a potential mediator about his or her style before starting your relationship.

There are many ways to describe the various styles in mediation, but a few enjoy significant visibility in the field.  These include evaluative mediation (sometimes called directive mediation), facilitative mediation and transformative mediation.  Other styles of mediation include narrative mediation, and some mediators follow the understanding model.  However, the three that are most recognized are the evaluative, facilitative and transformative styles.

Style Overview


Transformative mediation is the newest of the main styles.  Transformative mediators aim to involve the parties in managing both the process and the content of mediation as much as possible.  They don’t state their opinions or tell the parties what they think they should do.  Transformative mediation is very relationship oriented and can feel like therapy.  Transformative mediators aim beyond helping the parties to settle the issues that brought the parties to mediation.  They also work to help the parties acknowledge each other and understand how the other person sees things, too.  The point is for the parties to understand their power to not only resolve the problem that brought them to mediation – if they choose to resolve it – but to understand how to improve their approaches to conflict in the future.  This might be called the Montessori style of mediation


Facilitative mediation is the oldest of the commonly recognized styles.  It is the style most commonly taught in mediation training.  Facilitative mediators help parties to define their positions, identify and communicate their needs and interests, and collaborate to find resolutions that address those needs and interests.  Like transformative mediators, facilitative mediators don’t state their opinions about the case or tell the parties what they think they should do.  Facilitative mediators often see themselves as responsible for facilitating the process – hence the name – while the parties are responsible for the content.  Like transformative mediators, facilitative mediators are interested in relationships as well and will take time to talk through the parties’ feelings.  However, they are more interested in resolutions and less interested in transformation than a transformative mediator is.  This might be called the conventional style of mediation.


Evaluative mediation is most common in mediation programs that are part of a court system.  The mediators are often lawyers or retired judges who are experts in the law that governs the issue in dispute.  Evaluative mediators are seen as more settlement driven.  They will bargain with the parties, engage in more shuttle diplomacy, and can give their opinions of what the parties’ chances are in court.  Often they control both the process and the content of the mediation by deciding what to address and what not to address.  Usually the parties’ feelings about the conflict are left out of the picture.  This might be called “boot camp” mediation.

Making the Choice

In practice, most mediators mix these styles. Kate Reed of the new television show “Fairly Legal” seems to combine evaluative mediation with transformative mediation’s aims (although it is more likely for facilitative and transformative mediators to borrow from each other’s styles than for evaluative mediators to borrow from the transformative model).  However, mediators do tend to favor one style.  Knowing this, and choosing your mediator based on the style that works best for you and your situation, can help you to avoid a negative experience in mediation.  Even then, understand that most mediators are very good at modulating their styles to fit the topics discussed and the mood of the participants in mediation.

When you contact a mediator, begin by asking whether the mediator follows a certain style.  Ask the mediator to describe that style for you.  Then decide whether it works for you.  If you are not sure, it is perfectly fine to retain the mediator on a trial basis.  See how it goes.  The beauty of private mediation is that it is entirely voluntary, you can end the relationship at any time.

For more detailed information about the styles, visit these links: