6 Reasons Music Therapy is an Imperative tool in your Mental Health Arsenal

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  • Music can carry you to another place, another time, a memory or a dream.
  • But did you know music is also used as a therapeutic technique?
  • Dive into why music therapy is a great mental health tool to have on your side.

Have you ever heard the first 5 chords of a song, and been transferred back to a certain place in your life, a specific and beautiful memory? Have you ever been moved to tears by heartbreaking lyrics by vocals that make your legs melt? Is there a particular song that you hear, and it has this almost magical energy to just put you in a good mood? Or even in a bad mood, a sad mood. Songs that can shape your emotions entirely exist, and an experience with one can leave the listener confused, excited, entranced, elevated (or saddened), invigorated and more.

Music therapy. According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music Therapy is the clinical & evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals.” It is practiced by a music therapist in tandem with a client or several clients, and employs different types of noise and music from a host of genres and mediums. There are many ways to work with music therapy. Lyrical analysis, playing music or improvising, listening to music, and songwriting are key in many music therapy offices. Here are some reasons why music therapy is actually a really great option to have in your mental health arsenal.

Music Therapy delivers positive memory association.

Experiencing music is just that, an experience. If your mind is taking you back to a memory with positive memory association, then you are being enveloped in what could be a multi-sensory time in your life.  Plus, your serotonin levels are more apt to increase in this state. Some music therapists work through music that was integral to you in order to work through current and past trauma.

While some songs will undoubtedly trigger more negative experiences, there are so many that will make your heart swell until you feel like it could burst. This could be perfect for any creative processes, as good music can often inspire art. Save those special tracks for a playlist or when you need to make a quick song suggestion in the near future. They will encourage play, creativity and help to inspire you.

Music can help mellow our mood and reduce stress.

Music can also drastically help to alter your mood and is often utilized to reduce stress. Think about it. How many times did you come home, frustrated about someone saying something mean or being irritating on the school bus? You threw your backpack down, slammed your door (if you were lucky enough to still have it on the hinges), and dissolved into your favorite song. On repeat. Preferably with no interruptions, but let’s face it, some of us lived through the dark ages of cassette tapes and only vinyl. Rewinding or making sure the needle went back to the exact same groove every time could get pretty cumbersome.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

Music can be utilized to regulate mood. Because of its rhythmic and repetitive aspects, music engages the neocortex of our brain, which calms us and reduces impulsivity. We often utilize music to match or alter our mood. While there are benefits to matching music to our mood, it can potentially keep us stuck in a depressive, angry or anxious state.

Music therapists use different genres and sounds to their advantage when working to alter mood states in a patient. Often, they will play music to mirror the current mental or physical state of the patient, slowly shifting the music to more positive notes or traits – like lyrics, lighter instruments, a catchy melody – to help lift the mood.

Music Therapy might increase memory and communication capabilities.

Many music therapists discuss the emotions that artists intend to communicate in certain songs. Even more will engage with lyrics, and how the patient connects with them. In either circumstance, therapists are asking patients to reach into their subconscious for things they might not otherwise remember, to associate their memories and help to develop future memory patterns. As for the way communication is enhanced, using music as a form of communication is, in itself, breaking boundaries that normal discourse cannot touch.

Counselors harness the power of music in counseling as a creative tool for clients to express emotion and communicate mood (Bowman, 1987; Skudrzyk et al., 2009). Considering the powerful connection individuals have to music, Buser, Flannery, Bentley and Gladding (2005) suggested counselors using music as a processing tool to access levels of emotional exploration and meaning not as efficiently accessed through other therapeutic techniques. Beyond use as a powerful processing tool, the researchers found using music in counseling can connect people, transcending boundaries of race, ethnicity, age, gender, or ability.

Music Therapy can be good for the active mind.

For those who need to keep themselves busy or who are considered talented in some aspect of music creation are often asked to engage in productive activities as part of their music therapy. While many music therapy sessions will involve listening to music that helps to trigger memories and work toward particular goals, some clients will require a more engaging form of therapy. Clients might be encouraged to write a song, sing, or learn to play an instrument. This can often more effectively help clients seeking recovery from mental health or physical illness through useful daily activities. This can also help build upon confidence to carry the client through other daily tasks. Sound engineers, production assistants, writers, and more have taken up hobbies of singing or playing musical instruments in tandem with their therapy sessions.

If you are experiencing a dip in your mental health, consider the creative portions of music that engage your senses and give you a sense of contribution. If you struggle with ADHD or other attention-specific disorders, consider an aspect of music that you can connect with. Do you like the sound effects that go in on the production side of things? With so many teaching and learning environments now available online (Masterclass, Udemy, Skillshare, etc.), you can more actively engage in therapy and in creating art.

Music Therapy might even help to reduce physical pain.

Although there are far less accounts of this, music therapy has been considered responsible for the reduction of physical pain in patients. A study from 2009 to 2011 published by Science Direct showed a greater decrease in pain scores of palliative care patients who were receiving music therapy versus those who were not. A 2017 study in spinal patients showed a decrease in pain in the music therapy group as well, which used patient-preferred live music. This may have encouraged movement or slight dance patterns, cortisol-conscious movement which could have aided in reducing inflammation and decreasing pain.

Music Therapy can be used at any time.

Just because you’re learning with your therapist during a specific time frame, doesn’t mean the learning stops in the office when your appointment does. Use information learned during sessions to help yourself manage your emotions and stress on a regular basis if you can. Writing notes about different genres or songs that strike a feeling in you and keeping it on your person, or in your car, can really help when a mood strikes.

No matter if you’ve decided to add music to your regular therapeutic regimen of yoga and walking, are currently curating some mental health-focused playlists to help you maintain your cool, or are now interested in seeking out a professional music therapist for some work, knowing that music itself can help inspire in certain conditions is reason enough to step into a world with more sound.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.