Music helps us celebrate our greatest moments in life, and soothes us through the worst. It joins us in the car, at the movies, in restaurants, at the gym, and in simple moments with loved ones. Music honors individuals, cultures, trends, love, heartache, friendship, pain, and humanity.
Even inside of us, elements of music are constantly expressed through the rhythm of our heart, melody of our voice, and the tempo at which we choose to walk on the earth.
As an expressive art, music conveys our journey and reminds us that life is a shared experience. Some of the greatest music is not only an expression of human challenges, but also an attempt to overcome them, and heal.
As a science, music is measurable, and made of ratios and frequencies that our brain knows how to process before we are even born.
As a therapeutic tool, music is a powerful and practical way to reach the whole person. Music has the power to influence behavior, inspire emotion, and create harmony in all stages of life. Music therapy is a health profession that harnesses the artistic, scientific, and therapeutic components of music.
The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Research has shown that music therapy is a valuable and effective mental health treatment that can improve self-esteem, decrease anxiety, increase self-expression, increase motivation, and support emotional balance.
Music therapists are board-certified practitioners who integrate the power of music with a therapeutic relationship to help clients attain an improved experience of life. Music therapists serve people of all ages and abilities, and no musical skill on the client’s part is necessary to participate. Music therapy participation may be active or receptive, and an individual’s treatment plan is based on personal music preferences, goals, abilities, and challenges.
5 Ways Music Therapy is Used to Improve Mental Health:
Listening to live or recorded music allows clients to validate feelings and experiences, and process themes with a therapist through self-reflection and lyric analysis. Music listening is also a tool for refocusing attention for pain management, crisis intervention, and relaxation.
2. Creative Expression & Composition
Through singing, songwriting, composition, creative writing, or art activities, music is used to nurture creativity and healthy emotional expression. Creative expression can increase motivation and self-esteem, while increasing insight into feelings and identity.
Improvisation involves creating music in the moment for a spontaneous expression of feelings. Using instruments or voice, clients are able to freely express musically what may be difficult to put into words. In group settings, improvisation promotes bonding, community, and support through positive musical and social interactions.
4. Relaxation, Meditation, & Imagery
Live or recorded music is used to facilitate music-assisted meditation and relaxation practices. By reducing muscle tension and anxiety, music therapy interventions support stress management and mindfulness. In psychotherapeutic and transpersonal practices, guided imagery through music is used to explore inner experiences and promote integration.
5. Music as a coping skill
The use of music in daily life is explored as a way to cope with stressors and change, as well as improve quality of life. Learning to play an instrument as a meaningful hobby, participating in music as an alternative to drugs or alcohol, and learning to intentionally use music in daily practices helps increase motivation and encourages a healthy lifestyle.
“Where words fail, music speaks.” -Hans Christian Anderson
Music therapy may serve as a primary or complimentary mental health treatment, and music therapists often work in inpatient, residential, or outpatient facilities. Music therapists also work in private practice, and often collaborate with other mental health professionals.
I have worked with clients with psychosis who cannot even tell me their name, but can sing with me and enjoy a few minutes of reprieve from their hallucinations. I have worked with clients hospitalized after failed suicide attempts, who were able to find their first inklings of hope in a song lyric. I have worked with people piecing their sense of self back together after losing the most important person in their life, and finding the strength to persevere in the sound of an instrument. And I have worked with people facing their own death, using music as way to review their life and capture the unique qualities they brought to the world, and what they will leave behind.
I have also worked with clients in treatment for depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, PTSD, trauma, sex addiction, personality disorders, schizophrenia, grief, and mood disorders. The beauty in this work is found in the process itself that is both personal and universal. We all know what music is, yet we all have our own relationship to it. It is this relationship that is nurtured and cultivated in music therapy in order to connect to collective themes and create transformative and unique internal shifts.
“The best music…is essentially there to
provide you something to face the world with.” -Bruce Springsteen