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SongwritingWith: Soldiers Movie Incorporates VIA Strengths

July 2, 2013 by ·

“I listen to these songs all the time. I don’t know what it is about them but they are helping me heal.”  ~ SongwritingWith:Soldiers retreat participant

Mary Judd’s program SongwritingWith:Soldiers will be featured in a prime time special on HLN – July 4th at 7pm EST. The program will air again on July 6 and 7 at 1pm EST.

SongwritingWith:Soldiers (SWS) holds weekend retreats that  pair active duty and veteran service members with professional songwriters to turn their stories/experiences into song. Each participant comes away from the retreat with at least one song that they have co-written. (They are registered with ASCAP so they can potentially earn royalties.)

Mary puts much of her positive psychology know how into the programming of the events and uses the VIA Institute on Character Strengths Survey as a follow-up tool to help soldiers and volunteers broaden and build from the positive experience.

And read below to see how Mary uses the VIA to continue the positive impact of the songwriting & connecting experience.

Using the VIA Survey with Service Members in Creativity Setting

After the SWS retreat, Mary sends participants information about the VIA Character Strengths Survey – explaining that it is a tool that can help them identify their strengths that have little to do with their physical body, but rather of their strengths of character and virtues.

Along with the link to the survey, Mary sends the soldiers copies of two interviews that she has conducted, one with the retreat’s Creative Director and lead songwriter, Darden Smith, the other with an award winning combat photographer, Stacy Pearsall, who earned a Bronze Star for saving lives during combat. The interviews include a discussion about their VIA strengths and how they have come into play in their work and personal lives. The intent is to show the soldiers different ways of looking at their strengths of character and how they, too, might use theirs in new and engaging ways.

Before the April 2013 retreat, Mary held a strengths-spotting workshop with past participants. She played the songs they had written and posted the lyrics for all to see.  When each song ended, everyone mined the song for character strengths they felt were present and shared them with the group. Each soldier sat and listened as one after another they were acknowledged through this lens of strengths. Smiles, tears, and words of thanks crept out. After the discussion, the soldiers revealed their top 5-7 VIA strengths to see how they lined up with what others found in their song. Often, another discussion ensued about how they specifically used their strengths in the creation of their song, during the retreat – and beyond. The rise in energy and connecting was apparent as the evening went on.

Mary encouraged the group to find ways to “feed” the their strengths throughout the upcoming weekend in order to provide the best experience for all. She also discussed which strengths may need to be kept in check at certain times – and when they may be needed, like humor, or prudence.

Mary offers complimentary phone calls for the service members to discuss creative & meaningful ways to put their strengths to work.

You can download the songs at

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