What is Music Therapy?
How Music Can Help You Heal
Music as therapy can be immensely beneficial in treating substance use disorders and other mental health concerns. Musical therapy and music-based interventions are shown to positively impact mood, stress management, self-esteem, motivation, emotional expression, and social cohesion.
Music therapy can also help individuals shift their perspective and find an internal locus of control to reclaim their power. Additionally, music therapy helps increase an individual’s willingness to participate in treatment.
How Does Music Therapy Work?
Modulation of AttentionOne of the things that makes musical therapy effective is the way that music can pull us in and redirect our focus from things that may cause us to have negative emotions. Music can clear the mind and bring attention to the present moment, allowing profound healing.
Modulation of EmotionMusic has a profound effect on human emotions. Music has the power to regulate the emotional brain, specifically the processes involved with inception, creation, continuation, termination, and modulation of emotion. Music can also help expressing emotion, and individuals who struggle to express themselves in conventional therapy may see improvements in their ability to ‘open up’ after musical therapy. 4
Modulation of CognitionOne of the effects of music therapy is improvements in cognition. Music activates parts of the brain related to memory and can be used to process events related to musical experiences. Additionally, musical therapy is interpretation of lyrics, which involves cognitive processes.
Modulation of BehaviorMusic can also modulate behavior through modulation of cognition and vice versa. Music therapy can be used to help individuals make sustained behavioral changes. Additionally, learning to play a new instrument also improves an individual’s muscle control which can be important in treating certain disorders.
Modulation of CommunicationMusic is a form of self-expression and communication. Musical improvisation and personal music creation can allow for individuals to communicate in ways they normally wouldn’t in conventional therapy. Additionally, music therapy helps individuals who struggle with communication disorders because it allows for another avenue of communication.
Types of Music Therapy
Analytical Music TherapyAnalytical music therapy is a type of relational therapy that aims to help individuals understand themselves and their relationships through music creation and analysis. Individuals are encouraged to create whatever music they need to express their thoughts, which is then later discussed with the therapist.5
Benenzon Music TherapyBenenzon music therapy is designed to help individuals find their “musical sound identity.” Benenzon music therapy also encourages individuals to express themselves musically in a way that matches their internal psychological state.6
Cognitive Behavioral Music Therapy (CBMT)Cognitive behavioral music therapy blends traditional cognitive behavioral therapy with musical therapy. Because of its effect of behavioral modulation, musical therapy complements CBT nicely. CBMT is a little more structured than analytical or Benenzon music therapy and is not improvisational.
Community Music TherapyCommunity music therapy is a type of group therapy that asks for high levels of member engagement and participation. Creating sound with other individuals can be deeply healing. Group music therapy helps individuals develop a sense of community as all members are encouraged to express themselves musically.7
Nordoff-Robbins Music TherapyIn this type of musical therapy, both the individual participating and the therapist create music together. This is an improvisational therapy to improve self-expression, with drums and cymbals being commonly used.
The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM)This type of musical therapy harnesses the therapeutic powers of classical music. Classical music for therapy can evoke all manners of reaction. Individuals are asked to share their feelings, sensations, memories, and any imagery that arises while listening to the music. This is then further therapeutically explored.
Vocal PsychotherapyVocal psychotherapy is another form of musical therapy where individuals are encouraged to find their voice rather than using instruments. Individuals practice vocal exercises and breathing techniques and are also encouraged to make natural organic sounds. This practice helps cultivate inner connection.
What Music Therapy Can Help With
- Emotional dysregulation
- Feelings of low self-esteem
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Substance use disorders
- Traumatic brain injury
Alzheimer’s DiseaseMusic as therapy can be beneficial for individuals struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. For these individuals, music therapy helps improve cognition and mood. Another one of the benefits of music therapy for Alzheimer’s disease is that it reduces stress-induced behavioral problems.8
Anxiety or StressOne of the healing benefits of music is its ability to reduce anxiety and stress. In a study done on individuals undergoing music therapy for anxiety, it was found that music therapy reduced anxiety levels.9
Chronic PainAnother benefit of music therapy is its application in pain management. In a recent study on individuals with chronic pain, 87% of participants found music therapy helpful. Music therapy is a good choice for pain management and can be used to reduce anxiety surrounding upcoming procedures.10
DepressionSymptoms of depression can also be alleviated through music therapy. Current research efforts surrounding music therapy for depression have yet to define the best music for depression. However, music therapy for depression complements standard treatment options and can increase their efficacy.11
Emotional DysregulationBecause of music therapy’s effects on emotional modulation, music therapy is helpful for individuals who struggle with emotional dysregulation. Music therapy can be soothing and stabilizing for individuals who experience mood swings or emotional outbursts, due to its grounding effects.
Feelings of Low Self-EsteemMusic therapy helps increase self-esteem by encouraging creative expression. Through musical therapy, individuals can find their voice and their own unique sound, raising self-esteem. This effect lingers long after the music therapy treatment process has ended.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also benefit from music therapy. Music therapy, especially group therapy can decrease feelings of isolation and disconnection for individuals with PTSD. Additionally, because music therapy increases the release of endorphins and decreases stress hormones; it can help manage negative emotional states.12
Substance Use DisordersMusic therapy can be immensely beneficial in the treatment of substance use disorders. Participating in music therapy can help increase compliance to substance use treatment, as well as help manage some of the symptoms of substance use disorder. Music therapy helps individuals shift from feeling out of control in their addiction to developing an internal locus of control to overcome substance use.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)Music therapy can play a role in treating traumatic brain injury, especially for nonverbal individuals. Music improves cognition, muscle control and can help relearn speech. Music engages multiple parts of the brain, improving overall brain function, making it a good treatment choice for individuals with TBI.
Benefits of Music Therapy
Music therapy and mental health go hand in hand. Music therapy encourages creative self-expression and has been shown to boost self-esteem. This is especially true for individuals who participate in experiential music therapy, where they learn to play an instrument.
Improvements to self-esteem are important in recovery from a substance use disorder because increased self-esteem is directly related to an increase in self-efficacy, which is a major component of recovery.