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Use music safely

Music is powerful and you should use it mindfully. Here are some key things to keep in mind.

Red Flag Songs

Music can take you to another time or place. That is a great gift, and a great responsibility. Red Flag Songs are tunes that may take someone back to a bad place or bring back fearful or unwanted emotions.

If someone becomes agitated or distressed listening to a particular piece of music, stop the session immediately. Make a note of the Red Flag Song, so that it’s not played again. 

If the person show signs of distress or agitation during future sessions, stop the session and take a break from music for a while.

In a group setting, look for the effect of someone’s music on other people within earshot. One person’s Inheritance Track can be another person’s Red Flag. 


If you notice tears, remember that tears are not always bad. They are a sign of deep emotion, but sometimes it may be an emotion the person would rather have, than not.

Tears may have become the only way for someone to express what they are feeling.  

Focus on the person. Why are they crying? Are they distressed? If so, stop the session.

But if the tears are from some other emotion, be with them in that moment. Hold their hand. If it feels appropriate, put an arm around them. Spend time with them until the moment has passed. In this way playlists can become an opportunity for closeness and deeper caring. 

Check the volume

Whether you’re using headphones or speakers, make sure you check the volume before every session. 

Loud volumes can cause a person to start, cause physical discomfort or make someone distressed.

If the person wears a hearing aid, make sure you check the volume setting on the hearing aids before every session too, and ask their audiologist for guidance. 


Silence is an important part of using playlists well. Avoid constantly playing music, whether a playlist or just the radio.

Constant noise will be overstimulating. Try to think of playlisting as a shared activity and don’t leave a person alone in their headphones.

Half an hour is a good rough guide for how long a session should last. 

Read our top tips on when to use your playlist here