Is Music Therapy Right For You?
Sep 22, 2021, 7 min read
The effect of music on the human mind has fascinated people beginning with the 4th century BC, long before experimental psychology had been established. Aristoxenus, a Pythagorean philosopher, was of the belief that music should be classified by the effect that it has on people, rather than its structure. Although his contemporaries disagreed, we now know that he wasn't wrong to acknowledge how powerful the effect of music can be the on the mind - which is where the concept of music therapy comes from.
What is music therapy?
Due to advances in neuropsychology and brain imaging, we now know that music directly engages reward mechanism in the brain, as well as areas involved in emotion processing and memory. Listening to or creating music can also lead to the creation of new pathways across the two brain hemispheres. This means that musical experience can be harnessed to process emotional experiences.
Music therapy is a therapeutic technique that utilises the inherent mood-enhancing qualities of music (studies show it can do all kinds of things from managing pain to reducing stress) to assist individuals in enhancing their mental health and overall well-being. It's a goal-driven intervention that can incorporate creating music, writing songs, singing, dancing, listening to music or simply talking about music.
This form of therapy may be beneficial for people suffering from depression and anxiety, and it could enhance the quality of life for those with physical health issues. Even better, anyone can participate in music therapy; there is no requirement for a background in music in order to reap the benefits
Music therapy takes a systematic approach to support individuals to process their emotional experiences and develop coping mechanisms to improve their general mental health as well as help to provide targeted support for specific challenges.
"Music therapy helps people create a personal language by which they can explore their inner thoughts and feelings and communicate and engage with others." - Emma Kenrick, music therapist
How does music therapy work?
A music therapy session usually starts by assessing a client's history and aims. It can then take various shapes and forms: clients may listen to music one-to-one or as a social activity, sing, play instruments or engage with digital music equipment, or even write songs together with the therapist.
“Music therapy offers opportunities to explore beyond what is usually accessible through words. Whether through deep, focused, guided listening to music, or through active music making as a means of sense-making and self-expression, the holistic and integrative model that music therapy offers can benefit people seeking powerful transformative experiences and support while facing various life circumstances. These include stress, burnout and self-care, anxiety and depression, trauma, bereavement, self-exploration.” - Jasenka Horvat, music therapist and senior lecturer at the University of South Wales
Music therapy can be an interactive process, where clients actively participate in creating music, or a receptive one that involves listening or responding to music. Some therapists may adopt a combined approach involving both active and receptive interactions with music. There are several established approaches within music therapy, such as:
· Analytical music therapy, which encouragesan improvised, musical "dialogue" through singing or playing an instrument to express unconscious thoughts, which are then reflected upon and discussed with the therapist.
· Benenzon music therapy, a method that merges certain psychoanalysis concepts with the act of making music. It includes identifying your "musical sound identity," representing the external sounds that best resonate with your internal psychological state.
· Cognitive Behavioural Music Therapy (CBMT), which combinesCognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with music. CBMT uses music to reinforce certain behaviours and alter others. This structured approach may include listening to music, dancing, singing, or playing an instrument.
· Community music therapy, focusing on using music as a catalyst for community-level change. It's conducted in a group setting and requires high engagement from each member.
· Nordoff-Robbins music therapy, also known as creative music therapy, involves playing an instrument (often a cymbal or drum), with the therapist accompanying on another instrument. The improvisational process utilises music to enable self-expression, and was originally developed to support children with psychological, physical, or developmental disabilities.
· The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), which uses classical music to stimulate imagination. You describe feelings, sensations, memories, and imagery experienced while listening to the music.
· Vocal psychotherapy, using various vocal exercises, natural sounds, and breathing techniques in order to connect with emotions and impulses, fostering a deeper sense of self-connection.
Who is music therapy for?
Music therapists work with children and adults of all ages and social backgrounds with a range of diagnoses and difficulties.
"Because musical participation and response does not depend on the use of verbal communication, music therapy is a particularly effective clinical intervention in situations where communication is difficult due to illness, injury or disability. Music therapy can support a child with autism develop emotional, social and communication skills. Someone with an acquired brain injury as the result of an accident can be helped to regain their speech or improve certain motor control/movement. An older person frightened by the isolation and confusion brought on by dementia can, through the powerfully evocative nature of music, be supported to connect to memories as well as encouraging social interaction and emotional expression." - Emma Kenrick, music therapist
The differences between music therapy and sound therapy
You may have heard of the term "sound therapy," but this is actually a different technique. Music therapy and sound therapy (or sound healing) are distinct practices, each with its own objectives, protocols, tools, and environments.
Music therapy is a comparatively recent discipline, whereas sound therapy draws on ancient Tibetan cultural practices. Sound therapy employs instruments to generate specific sound frequencies, while music therapy concentrates on addressing symptoms such as stress and discomfort.
The training and certifications available for sound therapy aren't as standardized as those for music therapists. Music therapists frequently operate within hospitals, substance misuse treatment centres, or private practices, whilst sound therapists may provide their services as part of complementary or alternative medicine.
The benefits of music therapy
Music therapy has been found to have a range of benefits for various different types of people and needs.
- Improves emotional health: music therapy can help manage stress, depression, and anxiety by allowing individuals to express their feelings and improve their mood.
- Enhances physical rehabilitation: music therapy can facilitate movement and overall physical rehabilitation, making it useful in recovery from injuries or illnesses.
- Boosts cognitive functioning: it can enhance memory and cognitive functioning, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals with dementia.
- Pain management: music therapy can aid in physical discomfort by improving respiration, lowering blood pressure, improving cardiac output, reducing heart rate, and managing pain.
- Supports mental health: Music therapy can build self-confidence and increase awareness of your own behaviour. It can also be helpful for people with mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
- Enhances quality of life: Music therapy can improve quality of life in mental, physical, spiritual, social, and emotional areas.
Remember, the effectiveness of music therapy can vary depending on individual circumstances and needs - like all therapy, it isn't a one-size-fits-all model.
Does music therapy really work?
Music therapy has been found to be effective in a variety of scenarios, with plenty of studies conducted to verify its usefulness. Music has long been recognised as an effective form of therapy to provide an outlet for emotions, helping to manage pain and reduce stress.
Music therapy is an evidence-based, safe and effective form of treatment provided by trained professionals which can act as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. In the UK it is a well-established psychological clinical intervention, delivered by HCPC registered music therapists. Studies like this show that music, used therapeutically, can improve well-being and treat conditions including anxiety, depression, autism, and dementia.
There's definitely no shortage of clinically-backed evidence for the viability of music therapy as a psychological tool, although different aspects and approaches may not be right for everyone: again, therapy has to be fully tailored to work well, but if you can't put your finger on what's off or would like to an alternative route to more traditional forms of therapy, you may want to speak to a music therapist and see how this approach can work for you. Just as Aristoxenus envisaged, different types of musical experiences can elicit different emotional responses, and a music therapist would be able to recommend what approach suits you best.
If you have a question about music or other forms of creative therapies and how they could improve your mental health, we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps. Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from private psychiatric assessments and reviews to broader mental health care: join us today.