Using music to shift emotions.

"The widespread occurrence of music among widely distributed peoples and varied cultures is evidence that in music we have a great psychological force. Most people recognize the deep effect of music upon human feeling... The question is, can music be harnessed so that its effects are more subject to our control?"
—Dr. George S. Stevenson in a letter to The National Association for Mental Health, Inc., 1952

It's hard to talk about this project, but on the rare occasion someone asks me about it, the conversations always turn out to be the most beautiful.

Mental health is perhaps one of the greatest quandaries of our society. Illnesses like depression and panic disorder are frighteningly widespread, but most people are still ashamed to admit suffering from them. People with more rare illnesses, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are often feared and misunderstood—deemed crazy, like outcasts. What's worse is the access to affordable mental health care for people plagued with these illnesses, or maybe even people like you, perhaps, who don't suffer chronically, but only for a season.

The most horrifying thing of all, I think, is the unrestrained reliance on medication for dealing with mental health issues. Medications are certainly necessary for some, but even so—they are just one piece of a dark puzzle.

The reason this project is hard to talk about is because I fall into its category of users. Before I was diagnosed, I relied heavily on music as a form of catharsis and regulation for my unbalanced emotions. I did it unconciously, because it was natural, and the more I became comfortable talking about my disorder, I found that most other people rely on music for emotional balance, too.

So I began to wonder: If music grips us in such a way that it can soothe, intensify, shift, and illuminate our changing emotions, could there be a way to harness that power as a form of therapy?

So I began my research. I read books and articles, scoured the internet for every inkling of information on music and depression, and even visited the Music Therapy department at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, to talk to practicing music therapists about their work and the effects of music in a clinical setting.

What I found was that music has a profound influence on not only our minds, but our bodies too. However, because of "the error of subjectivity", its pracitical use in an uncontrolled setting has yet to be determined.

But I want to change that.

So I came with with an idea. It's a crazy one, but I think it could help some people. It's an app that would gently pull you out of that awful mood you're in. It's an app that implores you to dig around in those hard to pinpoint feelings. It's a place where other people understand and hear you.

It's Verve.

Verve userflow diagram Verve wireframes
Verve mood selector
Verve app menu
Verve playlists
Verve music therapy activity

This app has not yet been made. I haven't found the right team of people to make it a reality, but if you think you might be one of them, please reach out. In the meantime, I'll be researching and tinkering, designing and redesigning.


Dr. Stevenson ended his letter to The National Association for Mental Health with great hope:

"The ways of research are usually rough, and one can anticipate a long-time effort to find answers to these questions. The answers will come bit by bit, but the effort is worth while, for out of it we may expect light to be thrown on a large and important aspect of human life.

Sincerely yours,
George S. Stevenson, M.D."

The effort is worth while.

  • Research & Concept
  • User Experience Design
  • Mobile Interface Design

This began as a student project under Michele Wong's direction.