Music Therapy

Music is more than just organized background noise. The tinkling of a piano or the thrumming strings of a guitar seem to have the power to reach past a person’s defenses, allowing a sense of peace to creep in. Making music can also be transformative for some people, as it can allow them to express the deep feelings that aren’t always accessible with words. When the use of music takes place under the guidance of a mental health professional, it can be even more transformative.

Music Therapy Basics

Most people experience music on a daily basis, rocking out to beats on their electronic devices or listening to piped in music as they shop or wait for a doctor’s appointment. This sort of passive listening can be soothing and positive, but music therapy sessions take a slightly different approach that’s much more active, and possibly more effective.

A music therapy session is designed by a mental health professional, and according to the American Music Therapy Association, that person can use a variety of techniques in a session, including:

  • Song writing
  • Music performance
  • Discussions of lyrics in songs
  • Describing the imagery in music

Some clients might be instructed to hammer out their feelings on piano keys, while others might be given a list of songs to listen to and write about. Some people might participate in group drumming sessions, in which they’re just part of a mighty wall of sound, while others might try to describe how listening to that kind of sound makes them feel. Some clients might even be encouraged to make their own playlists of songs that describe their current emotional state, and then discuss that list with their therapist in their next session.

As all of these examples make clear, the music is used as a springboard to deeper insights and discussions, when it’s used as part of music therapy. It might be enjoyable, but it’s certainly not provided as a standalone treatment. It’s the discussions the music engenders, and the feelings the music triggers, that can help a person to heal.

Music and the Mind

music therapyParticipating in a session like this can have a real impact on a person’s mental health. For example, in a study in The Journal of Gerontology, researchers found that people who participated in music therapy had lower levels of depression and distress, and higher scores of self-esteem. Prior to this work, these clients had been diagnosed with depression, and some weren’t able to leave their homes. This therapy allowed them to feel just a little better about their lives, and perhaps that would allow them to develop the confidence to really participate in structured therapy and conquer their mental illnesses in an intense and significant way. For these people, it was vital help.

People who enter treatment programs for addiction might be similarly depressed and concerned about their lives. They might feel as though the day is full of only misery, unless drugs are involved, and they may not be motivated to participate in treatment programs that could help them. Music therapy might be helpful here, as it seems capable of lifting the dark thoughts that drive depression. It might also be helpful simply because it’s fun.

The Pleasure Principle

Most experts suggest that people will do things they find pleasant, and avoid things that bring them pain. People with drug addictions may struggle with this concept, as their addictions do seem to make them happy while healing makes them feel uncomfortable. Putting the pleasure back into life, without the use of drugs, might be vital to long-term healing, as feelings of joy might make sobriety a little easier to maintain. Music therapy might make this possible.

A study in the journal Music Therapy inadvertently proved this point. Here, researchers were attempting to prove that music therapy was either superior or inferior to other forms of therapy. Instead, they found that people who had other forms of therapy reported feeling that they were “disappointed” about their treatment. No one who got music therapy said the same. These people seemed to feel that music therapy was somehow fun and interesting, and they were glad they were given this treatment. Few who got the other form of therapy could say the same. It’s an interesting point, as people who participate in this form of therapy may come to feel as though the work they’re doing is both beneficial and fun. They may not feel as though the treatment is somehow painful, hard or disappointing. They may just like it, and they might be more willing to participate in therapy as a result. Dropout rates may fall, as people might want to come back for more.

Additionally, a study in The Arts in Psychotherapy, participants suggested that their music work allowed them to experience emotions that had previously been accessible only with drugs.

The therapy opened them up to experience and pleasure, teaching them that sobriety and healing really could be both fun and interesting. It’s a hard lesson to teach in a talk therapy session, but music therapy could make that concept a bit easier to understand and take to heart.

Music and the Body

the bodyPeople with addictions may also have very real physical problems that should be addressed. The tissues of the heart might be strained and stressed, due to long-term exposure to very dangerous chemicals, or the lungs might be scarred and pockmarked due to smoke inhalation. Some drugs like alcohol can even result in movement disorders that lead to long-term shaking and poor muscle control. For these people, making music might be part of a healing program.

Teasing music out of an instrument means using very small muscles in very precise and repeated ways. The breath is sometimes involved, and it must be sustained for a long period of time. Even the legs and feet are sometimes involved in playing music. Participating in physical therapy and exercise can be important for healing, but developing fine motor skills might be easier and more fun with the help of a musical instrument. People might see progress, without even realizing that they’re doing any work at all.

The American Cancer Society also suggests that music therapy has been associated with reductions in:

  • Blood pressure
  • Heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Breathing speed

These effects are typically transient, meaning that they tend to take hold during a music therapy session and fade away soon after, but they can be transformative for people who consistently feel ill and unwell due to drug abuse. Those brief, shining moments of peace and good health could make all the difference for them, showing them that there really is a life after drugs, and that the life ahead could be a good one.

Finding Help

If you’d like to experience the benefits of music therapy in your life, please call us. At Axis, we incorporate a variety of different treatments into the programs we provide for our clients, and often, music therapy is something our clients both want and could benefit from. We’d be happy to talk with you and help you decide if this is the right intervention that could help you to overcome an addiction.