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Musical Notes with Melissa: Stranger Things

Melissa Pate

“I’ll be running up that road, running up that hill, running up that building.”

Any other Stranger Things fans out there? One reason I love the show is because of how they tie in themes of psychology, trauma, and healing with the characters and their journeys.

In a recent episode, the character Max has a face-to-face encounter with her trauma and guilt from losing her brother. As the embodiment of that trauma, the character Vecna seeks to overcome her, and her friends are desperate to find a way for her to escape.

Two of her friends, Nancy and Robin, are visiting a psychiatric hospital to gather information. As they tour, the girls notice several patients with Walkman’s (yes, Walkman’s…it’s 1986!) listening to music. The lead psychologist tells them that they have found personally meaningful music to be an essential part of the healing process, as “music reaches parts of the brain that words cannot.”

Just when we think Max will succumb to Vecna, her friends plug in her cassette tape (again, it’s 1986), and she hears her favorite song, “Running up that Hill.” We see flashbacks of happy memories with friends playing in her mind, and Max finds the strength to run to safety. Music saves the day!

There are three main things that stick out to me about the way this show illustrates the power of music: 1) the specificity of personally meaningful music being effective; 2) the recognition that listening to meaningful music reaches the parts of the mind that words alone cannot; and 3) the music sparks memories of joy, friendship, and connection. Due to these three factors, Max found an opening to escape, and it connected her to the outside world.

For more information on music therapy or brain wellness, contact Melissa Pate at