Music is one of the greatest joys in our lives, one that ignites emotions, gets your head bopping, your fingers tapping, and can get stuck in your mind like a broken record. We’ve been hearing music since the moment we entered the world and particular songs have become the soundtrack of our lives, triggering memories and feelings each time we hear them. Now, music itself has become the center of a science-backed therapy.
Music therapy is a growing field helping individuals manage their emotions, strengthen their coping skills and stimulate their cognitive activity. It is used to help combat a range of different mental and physical health issues, so we’re going to delve into more detail to find out what it’s all about.
Music therapy is a holistic approach that uses the naturally mood-lifting qualities of music to help improve mental health and overall wellbeing as well as a variety of disorders including:
- cardiac conditions
- chronic pain
- substance abuse
- difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication
- low self-esteem
- Respiratory conditions
- Traumatic brain injury
It involves the mind, body, emotions, and behaviors to improve memory, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve self-esteem, enhance communication and social skills, develop self-reflection, reduce muscle tension, enhance motivation, manage pain and increase joy – just to name a few! Luckily, you don’t need a musical background to participate as it is appropriate for all ages and cognitive abilities.
Formal music therapy was first used back in 1945 by the United States War Department to help military service members recovering in Army hospitals with occupational therapy, education, recreation, and physical reconditioning.
Nowadays, music therapy most commonly takes place in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, mental health centers, and residences for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Yes, music therapy can work for all individuals regardless of age. Music therapy can help younger generations with behavioral disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, trauma, and substance abuse.
In your consultation, your music therapist will assess your strengths and your needs. You may discuss your emotional wellbeing, physical health, physiological responses, motor skills, social functioning, communication abilities, cognitive skills, trauma history, and triggers.
Your music therapist will also chat with you regarding your musical preferences and any musical background that you might have. Then they’ll work with you to identify your goals and design appropriate music therapy for the session.
There’s a range of things that happen within music therapy. You and your therapist can create music, write lyrics, sing, listen or move to music, discuss lyrics, melodies, and their meaning, and play instruments.
As a client, you can either use music therapy as an active process whereby you play a role in creating music or as a passive one that involves you listening or responding to music. Some music therapists may use a combined approach including both active and passive interactions.
Music therapy is generally highly personalized to the individual and their mental or physical health challenges. It is known to release endorphins, encourage feelings of calm, and activate regions of the brain that influence things like memory, emotions, movement, sensory relay, and decision making.
Music therapy has been reported of being effective in six different areas: emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual, cognitive, and social. Music can affect us in the following ways:
- Release suppressed emotions
- Lessen feelings of isolation
- Improve mood
- Decrease depression
- Reduce anxiety
- Enhance self-expression
- Improve stress management
- Touch the body in several ways: change heart rate, lower blood pressure and respiration rate
- Improve motor development and processing
- Promote sleep and relaxation
- Physically stimulate conscious or unconscious body movements and improve walking and speech
- Manage and/or distract from pain
- Reduce asthma episodes
- Lessen pain
- Help premature infants with weight gain and sleep
- Help those with Parkinson’s disease improve their motor functions
- Increase sense of control
- Develop coping skills
- Lessen the effects of dementia
- Brings people together, not only at large gatherings but in more intimate and informal experiences too
- Help autistic children improve communication
- Music can introduce spirituality allowing you the opportunity to explore your own beliefs
If you aren’t familiar with music therapy, you’re not alone. It’s still a growing field but is innovative in the ways it helps with various health conditions. If it’s something you’d be interested in trying, we suggest getting in touch with your doctor or another health professional.
It goes without saying, music connects people, and when used therapeutically, it can help heal the soul. Even without the help of a professional, you can create enjoyment at home through the medium of music.
If like us, you’re a music lover, read our blog post 'Are Musicians Immortal?' for some food for thought.
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