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The Benefits of Music Therapy

If you have a mental health concern for which you are considering therapy, you may wonder which therapeutic approach will be best for you. Some people do not feel enthusiastic about the talk therapy approach. If you find it difficult to express yourself through words, you might consider participating in music therapy. It is one type of expressive arts therapy that uses music to address various physical or psychological issues. This approach can be helpful for many different mental health concerns. Learn more about music therapy and how it may be able to help you improve your mental wellness:

Music Therapy: What is it?

Music therapy is one of many evidence-based approaches to mental health treatment. Much like other mental health treatments, in music therapy, clients work with a trained therapist towards some treatment goal. Music therapy is set apart from other treatments because it does use musical interventions, such as listening to music and singing, to help people reach their therapeutic goals. This approach can help people better communicate their feelings without words and can increase their strengths. Music therapists are trained to address emotional, social, cognitive, and physical concerns.

Music Therapy vs Sound Therapy

Sound healing or sound therapy more broadly uses sounds to help heal physical and mental ailments. Sound therapy can involve many different sounds aside from music. This could be the sound of a vibration, for example. It appears that exposure to such sounds can alter brainwaves.

Additionally, listening to music and making music can be therapeutic without necessarily being music therapy. Music therapy takes a more goal-directed and intentional approach.

Music Therapy Theory

Research has shown that music therapy can be helpful for many different presenting concerns, ranging from mental health to physical health conditions. It is thought that music stimulates the senses to provoke various therapeutic responses. These responses may be feelings of familiarity, predictability, and even security. For mental health treatment, music therapy can be used to help clients communicate and express themselves when words are not possible or not entirely sufficient.

How Does Music Therapy Suggest the Mind Works?

Music therapy research has suggested that the brain, or at least specific parts of the brain, are affected by elements of music. Specifically, the rhythms of music seem to calm the mind and body. This is how music therapy can assist with reducing mental and physical health symptoms.

Important Practitioners in Music Therapy

Music was identified as a potentially beneficial component for healing even in ancient times. Writings from the great philosophers Plato and Aristotle actually identified music as something that could affect behavior and health. In the 1700s and 1800s mental health professionals continued to see the potential benefits of music for individuals affected by mental health symptoms. In the early 1900s interest grew in the field. Several individuals (Eva Augusta Vescelius, Isa Maud Ilsen, and Harriet Ayer Seymour) all founded short-lived associations for music therapy and musical therapists.

The discipline did not become more formally established until the 20th century. After World War I and World War II, musicians often visited veterans’ hospitals. Professionals continued to notice that this informal music therapy seemed to help heal veterans’ emotional trauma. Soon, professionals were intentionally inviting and hiring musicians to bring this supportive approach.

However, professionals also quickly realized that these musicians needed more formal training to make their intervention the most effective. A demand grew for a college curriculum that could specifically train music therapists. Three individuals played a key role in advancing the field of musical therapy during this time-frame: Ira Altshuler, Willem van de Wall, and E. Thayer Gaston.

The first degree-granting music therapy program was founded in 1944 at Michigan State University. It was not until 1998 that the American Music Therapy Association was founded. This brought together the National Association for Music and the American Association for Music Therapy. This united organization can regulate and progresses the field of music therapy forward.

Oliver Sacks

Dr. Oliver Sacks investigated the way that music can help and heal the brain. He found that music affects many areas of the human brain. In his book Musicophilia, he presented many case studies of individuals who were able to overcome various neurological conditions with the help of music. More broadly, Sacks explains how and why music can so powerfully affect people.

How Does Music Therapy Cause Change?

It is thought that music therapy works in different ways, in part, depending on the concerns being addressed. Research has shown that music, especially music with a strong rhythm, can actually affect your heart rate and breathing (which can aid relaxation). It has also been found to promote the release of endorphins (natural painkillers). It has been shown to promote relaxation, in part, by reducing muscle tension. It also appears helpful for assisting people in releasing negative memories or feelings. It has even been found to help change behaviors and thus, it can be used to reduce behavioral problems.

What Happens in a Music Therapy Session?

Music therapy sessions have a foundation similar to other forms of therapy. Initially, the therapist will want to establish a therapeutic relationship and alliance with the client. This makes therapy a comfortable space for clients to address their issues, express themselves, and work towards therapy goals. Once this foundation is made, music therapy sessions will involve the use of listening to music, making instrumental or vocal music, and discussing the client’s reactions during these experiences.

Techniques Used in Music Therapy

Generally, music therapists will use instrumental and vocal music strategies to help clients reach their therapy goals. The exact musical selections and specific music making activities will be chosen for each individual client’s preferences and needs. Therefore, music therapy does initially involve some assessment, treatment planning, and ongoing evaluation. This allows the music therapist to make the best selections and modify them as needed towards client progress.

Then, interventions may be active and/or receptive. When the client is asked to make music in some way, that is an active technique. Receptive techniques involve listening to music and perhaps responding to it with analysis or body movement. Clients may also be asked to write songs. These techniques can be carried out in individual therapy and in group therapy settings.

Music Therapy

Does Music Therapy Work?

Since 1964 when music therapy first more popular, research studies have supported this treatment method and shown it to be beneficial. Generally, the results have shown people can achieve improved self-esteem, decreased anxiety, reduced muscle tension, increased motivation, emotional release, and improved relationships. More specifically, research has shown benefits for individuals with anxiety, depression, and even psychosis/schizophrenia. Music therapy is not necessarily curative, but it can improve symptoms, assist with symptom management, and increase a person’s quality of life.

What Kinds of Concerns is Music Therapy Best For?

Music therapy can be used to treat a wide variety of social, emotional, cognitive, and physical health concerns. It should be noted that clients do not need to have any background with music, to participate in, and benefit from music therapy.

Music therapy can be used to help individuals with autism or other mental health conditions to improve their communication. It can be used to help people regain lost speech and motor functioning, after a head injury. It has been used with older adults to decrease the effects of dementia. It can be used to help people manage pain. It can also be used to help people sleep better, manage their weight, and to improve many different mental health conditions.

In the area of mental health concerns, music therapy can be used to help people improve self-esteem, emotional states, general mood, coping/relaxation skills, decision making, independence, concentration, attention span, social interaction, and personal insight.

How Are Music Therapy Specialists Trained?

Music therapists are specially trained to provide music therapy. In the United States, many of these specialists are trained under guidelines from the American Music Therapy Association. This group of practitioners supports access to music but does distinguish their work from general music appreciation.

Music therapists hold a bachelor’s degree or a higher degree, such as a masters or doctorate. Their training is typically received from one of the American Music Therapy Association’s approved colleges or university programs. After receiving basic training, music therapists also participate in 1200 or more hours of supervised clinical training. Eventually, they become board certified and licensed.

Concerns/Limitations of Music Therapy

Music therapy has been proven helpful for many different presenting concerns. However, it may not work as a stand-alone treatment for certain conditions. Individuals with serious psychiatric or medical issues will likely need treatment from other modalities as well (such as medications). In these cases, music therapy may be a helpful adjunctive treatment, to add on, for holistic and integrative care.

Providers who practice music therapy will generally aim to tailor the approach to each individual client. Some individuals may not respond well to all types of music and activities. Individual preference will play a role in selecting specific treatment techniques/interventions and it could create some limitations.

How to Find a Therapist

Music therapists work in many different settings including outpatient clinics, community mental health centers, psychiatric treatment centers, substance abuse programs, rehabilitation facilities, medical centers, group homes, senior centers, hospices, and schools. Music therapists can specialize in the types of concerns they will address. Some have specialized training for working with mental health concerns.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

When you search for a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) you will want someone who is generally trained and experienced in the field. If you are seeking music therapy, you will want a provider who has specialized training as a music therapist. When you choose to work with a mental health provider, you also want to be sure they have experience working with mental health concerns similar to yours. Finally, to make therapy the most productive, you will want to work with a provider whom you feel generally connected to and comfortable with as a therapist.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

When you pursue mental health treatment, you will likely want to ask your potential provider many questions before you get started. You will probably want to ask about their training, experience, and approach to treatment. It is also helpful to ask what approach the potential provider will take to working with your specific concerns and goals. You may also want to know about whether music therapy will be the most appropriate and helpful approach for your needs.

Many people will also have concerns about whether they can afford therapy. In many cases, music therapy can be covered by insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare. This is possible for diagnosable mental health conditions when music therapy appears as an appropriate treatment.

Find a Therapist Now

If you choose to pursue therapy, there are websites to help you find local providers. One useful site is Psychology Today, where you can search for providers according to your location. The SAMSHA website also has a provider locator to find nearby options that are considered low-cost. The AMTA also has an online directory to help you find qualified music therapists. Presently, many people also choose to obtain therapy directly through online platforms.

If you choose to obtain therapy online, use a convenient and confidential platform. One option is Thrive Talk. This platform is high-quality and easy to use. You simply start by setting up an account and then get matched with a therapist. There are many potential providers to choose from. All are trained and appropriately licensed in their field. You can then easily use the online platform to schedule an appointment at the time that is most convenient for you.

Final Thoughts on Music Therapy

Music therapy is a proven approach for addressing mental health concerns. It is an approach that requires specialized training for the mental health provider. When used correctly, it can provide many different benefits to decrease psychological symptoms and improve psychological functioning.



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