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Exploring the Healing Potential of Music Therapy

In the world of psychotherapy, an unconventional yet harmonious ally has emerged in the form of music therapy.  Beyond being a delightful, stress-reducing experience, music therapy is a unique method of tapping into human emotions, promoting self-discovery, and fostering healing.  The benefits of music therapy transcend mere mental stimulation, as this technique has showcased improvements […]

jocelyn moyet grow therapy By Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC
Mother and son make music.

Published on Mar 27, 2024

Updated on Mar 27, 2024

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In the world of psychotherapy, an unconventional yet harmonious ally has emerged in the form of music therapy. 

Beyond being a delightful, stress-reducing experience, music therapy is a unique method of tapping into human emotions, promoting self-discovery, and fostering healing. 

The benefits of music therapy transcend mere mental stimulation, as this technique has showcased improvements in heart function, motor skills, brain stimulation, and so much more. 

Read on as we explore the healing potential of music therapy, who it can benefit, and what to expect in a session. 

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy uses a range of modalities in musical creations to help individuals achieve their therapeutic goals. Whether you want to improve social skills, boost emotional regulation, enhance motor control and coordination, or promote personal growth, music therapy is an excellent intervention for this. 

This clinical-based practice involves a qualified therapist using a variety of musical elements in the form of rhythm, melody, harmony, and lyrics to facilitate self-expression and support individuals in their pursuit to achieve therapeutic outcomes in a harmonious fashion. 

The effects of music therapy not only profoundly improve our physical and mental well-being, but they’re also incredibly versatile. 

For adolescents grappling with self-esteem issues, music therapy serves as a channel for empowerment, increasing confidence, self-expression, and social connection. Among individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, music therapy boosts cognitive functioning and evokes emotions, improving mood, and fostering connection and comfort. 

Music therapy may also be useful for individuals in nursing homes, correctional facilities, medical settings, and educational facilities.

Benefits of Music Therapy 

Many of us are familiar with the fuzzy feeling that envelopes our senses when we hear our favorite song on the radio. 

However, did you know that beyond the heartwarming nostalgia, music in the form of therapy holds a remarkable power to heal and transform our well-being?

According to Amy Mikulski, a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy, “Anyone who has been through a tough break-up can likely attest to the power of music and our mental health. Music increases blood flow to the emotion-focused portion of our brains and has been shown under a PET scan to light up all portions of our brain at the same time. Perhaps even more powerfully, music can create and deepen connection with ourselves and others.”

The mental health benefits of music therapy include:

The physical health benefits of music therapy include: 

Condition-specific benefits of music therapy services include: 

The extensive benefits of music therapy highlight its versatility in promoting well-being across all different populations, transcending age, abilities, and conditions. The inclusive nature of music therapy offers a supportive environment for individuals with diverse backgrounds and needs to foster healing and resilience. 

Music Therapy Techniques

Many music therapy techniques can be utilized to help us cope, heal, and meet our therapy-based goals, and beyond!

Mikulski says, “Listening to music with the intention of connecting to our emotions, playing instruments or singing alone or in a group, walking or dancing to music, participating in drumming and drumming circles, and learning music-assisted stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing are just a few techniques that can improve our quality-of-life.” 

Some of the most popular types or ‘genres’ of music used in therapy include:

Music therapy may also be further classified into passive and activity modalities.

Passive Music Therapy

In passive music therapy, individuals are the receivers of the musical experiences orchestrated by a therapist. During a session, individuals will listen and observe the music, creating a sense of self-awareness for how it makes them feel. 

Music listening is a common form of passive music therapy, where a therapist will use the listening genres listed above to foster relaxation, minimize symptoms of anxiety, or elicit emotional responses.

Guided Imagery is another tremendous musically-driven strategy that involves the mental creation of images that facilitate relaxation and prompt emotional responses. Clients will be instructed to imagine these calming scenes while music plays in the background to enhance the experience and reduce the stress surrounding the circumstance. 

For someone dealing with trauma, guided imagery within music therapy can serve as a transformative tool. By visualizing calming scenes prompted by the therapist’s guidance and coupled with music, individuals can potentially find solace, ease emotional tension, relax tight muscles, and gradually build resilience while addressing trauma-related stressors.

Music-assisted relaxation is another version of passive music therapy where music is integrated into relaxation strategies, such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation, to reduce stress and promote inner calmness. 

Active Music Therapy

During an active music therapy session, individuals are encouraged to participate in the creation of music through various means. 

Songwriting is a popular musical strategy that encourages the expression of the mind through storytelling. Clients may choose to compose the lyrics to reflect their thoughts or experiences. With a therapist’s guidance, these lyrics can be used to help process emotions, encourage communication, and explore thought processes in a creative setting. 

Improvised music involves the spontaneous creation of music through improvisation with musical instruments or voices to allow for creative expression and emotional exploration.

Playing instruments is an excellent form of active music therapy that allows individuals to learn to play melodies with real instruments, promoting coordination, emotional release, and motor pattern learning.

Movement to music is a full-body exploration of music that incorporates rhythmic movements or dancing as a means of self-expression and release of pent-up emotions.  

Role of Music Therapists 

The music therapist is sort of like the conductor of an orchestra. Just as a conductor skillfully directs the expressive rhythms and melodies of each musician, the music therapist skillfully guides individuals through their therapeutic journey. 

In the United States, the certification board for music therapists requires individuals to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy (or another related field). They must complete a required number of supervised clinical hours (which can vary by state) and pass a national board exam. This will lead to earning their music therapist-board certified (MT-BC) credential. 

According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), board-certified music therapists maintain elevated standards in public service and adhere rigorously to ethical principles in their conduct.

Like most other healthcare professionals, music therapists are committed to improving the quality of life and well-being of their patients or clients through a specialized form of therapy. Their responsibilities include:

The Bottom Line

Music therapy stands as a transformative and versatile healing modality, extending beyond conventional therapy practices. This approach fosters deep and meaningful emotional exploration to boost mental and physical well-being and overall quality of life.

For those interested in exploring the therapeutic potential of music, start by finding a certified music therapist. 

FAQs

  • Music therapists are trained to assess individual needs and goals, creating tailored musical interventions that aim to achieve these goals. They lead sessions, using listening, instrumentals, singing, songwriting, or improvisation to foster healing and holistic well-being.

  • Music therapy is based on two methods: ‘passive’ which involves listening to music chosen by the therapist to evoke emotional responses or relaxation, and ‘active’ which engages individuals to create music through singing, playing instruments, composing, or improvising to achieve their therapeutic goals.

  • Music therapy can encompass a variety of diverse music choices, from instruments to vocal, calming to stimulating, and is selected based on an individual’s needs, therapeutic goals, and desired emotional or physiological response.

  • Music therapy serves to redirect focus to emotional expression, cognitive stimulation, physical relaxation, and social interaction as a way to regulate mood, reduce stress, improve self-awareness, and foster a sense of belonging.

  • Music plays a role in our emotional well-being by reducing stress, improving mood, and promoting relaxation. It also serves to stimulate brain activity to enhance cognitive functioning. Musical activities in a group setting can also foster social connections and improve communication skills.

About the author
jocelyn moyet grow therapy Jocelyn Moyet, LMHC

Jocelyn Moyet is a licensed mental health counselor with over 13 years of clinical experience. She specializes in mood disorders, coping skills, relationships, and self-esteem.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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