Different sounds, combined to form harmony, melody, and rhythm, are music to the ears. But the power of music is much deeper. The well-coordinated sounds have the potential to touch all aspects of the mind and body. They alter brain signals, influencing behaviour and uplifting mood. There’s a reason people go for music therapy.
Music therapy is a therapeutic technique. It uses the power of music to naturally improve mental health and overall well-being. It is a goal-oriented intervention that includes all aspects of music – listening to music, playing an instrument, writing songs, discussing music, making music, or dancing to music.
How Does Music Therapy Work?
Music affects the brain in complex ways. Different sounds of music are processed differently by different parts of the brain.
For instance, the cerebellum processes rhythm, the frontal lobes are responsible for decoding emotional signals, a small portion of the right temporal lobe helps process the pitch, and the nucleus accumbens (the reward centre of the brain) helps understand melody and pleasure music.
Music therapy uses this relationship between different sounds and brain parts to help the body heal.
Types of Music Therapy
Music therapy can broadly be classified into two heads:
- Active Process
- Passive Process
Music therapy is an active process if one is involved in creating music. On the other hand, it is passive if it involves only listening or responding to music.
Other types of music therapy include:
- Analytical music therapy – This therapy revolves around using improvisation and musical communication through singing or playing an instrument. This helps express unconscious thoughts.
- Benenzon music therapy – This music therapy is a combination of the concepts of psychoanalysis and the art of music-making.
- Cognitive behavioural music therapy (CBMT) – Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talk therapy that encourages behaviour changes. The CBMT combines CBT with music therapy to bring about desired changes.
- Community music therapy – This is a group music therapy that facilitates change on the community level.
- Nordoff-Robbins music therapy – This is a form of creative music therapy which involves playing instruments. The client and the therapist get into a duo performance and improvise music to express feelings.
- The Bonny method of guided imagery and music (GIM) – This music therapy uses classical music to stimulate feelings, sensations, and memories.
- Vocal psychotherapy – This technique involves vocal exercises, natural sounds, and breathing methods to connect with emotions, impulses, and feelings.
Benefits of Music Therapy
Like other therapies, music therapy also encourages self-expression. The benefits of music therapy include:
1. Relieves Stress
Music is a great stress reliever. According to research, listening to music helps reduce the levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone.
2. Reduces Anxiety
Music stimulates the body to release endorphins or the body’s happy hormones. This calms down the nervous system and helps ease anxiety symptoms.
3. Improves Depression Symptoms
The use of music therapy for depression is well-pronounced. Music therapy when used in combination with talk therapy triggers the release of endorphins and dopamine, hormones that contribute to ‘feel good’ emotions.
4. Improves Cognitive Functions
Music therapy helps improve cognitive abilities and slows down age-related cognitive decline. The therapy is exceptionally beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients as musical memories are the hardest to erode.
5. Increases Emotional Wellness
Music works on specific parts of the brain. It helps improve confidence, makes one feel more relaxed, and promotes emotional healing. It reduces despair and improves self-esteem.
Other benefits of music therapy include:
- Improved memory and decision-making functions
- Accomplishment of social needs for older adults
- Reduced heart rate and blood pressure levels
- Relaxed muscle tension
- Strengthened motor skills
- Improved communication
- Reduced learning disabilities
- Improved cardiac output
- Improved respiration
Uses of Music Therapy
Research shows that music therapy is beneficial in a range of medical conditions. The use of this therapy helps improve symptoms in people experiencing:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Anxiety and stress
- Cardiac conditions
- Chronic pain
- Emotional dysregulation
- Feelings of low self-esteem
- The trouble with movement or coordination
- Impulse behaviour
- Difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication
- Surgery-related issues
- Negative mood
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Problems related to childbirth
- Rehabilitation after an injury or medical procedure
- Substance abuse
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Respiratory problems
Effectiveness of Music Therapy
Though applications of music therapy are widespread, its use has been highly effective in the following domains:
- Depression – Music therapy is now an active part of depression treatment. The use of music therapy for depression patients helps reduce obsessive thoughts, depression symptoms and anxiety.
- Insomnia – light music or white noise is known to induce sleep. Music therapy is thus used as an active mechanism to help people with sleep disorders or insomnia. Compared to prescription drugs, music therapy is less invasive and more affordable.
- Pain Management – Research established that music therapy helps people cope with physical pain. Thus, music therapy is actively used to help people in pain due to chronic conditions. It is also useful to alleviate pain levels among women in labour or during childbirth.
- Cancer – Cancer diagnoses and treatment are emotionally draining situations. Music therapy helps enhance emotional and spiritual well-being, helping in better disease management.
How to Start Music Therapy?
To consider music as a treatment, the first and foremost step is to talk to your doctor. Depending upon your medical condition and treatment plan, the doctor or therapist may recommend music therapy. Fortunately, music therapy is available for all age groups and medical conditions.
Depending on your requirements, a music therapy session can be on a one-on-one basis or will require you to work in group sessions. A typical session lasts for about less than an hour. These sessions can be conducted in a hospital setting or in a well-structured ambience.
During a music therapy session, the therapist will instruct you to listen to different genres of music, play a musical instrument, or compose your tunes. The session may include both singing and dancing. You may be encouraged to create and improvise or follow a set structured pattern.
For the best and most effective results, it is important to use music therapy in combination with medication, psychotherapy, or other interventions.
Side-Effects of Music Therapy
Although music therapy is generally considered safe, it is also associated with a few side effects. These include:
- Overstimulation of the brain
- Harmful effects of listening to very loud music
- Certain genres of music intensify depression
- The wrong choice of music can cause distraction
- Music therapy which includes dancing can intensify pain
Music has long been considered an antidote to stress and tension. Music therapy uses the power of sound to naturally improve mental health and overall well-being. There are two types of music therapy – active and passive. While active music therapy includes improvisation and creating music, passive music therapy involves listening and responding to music.
Depending upon the medical requirements, a certified music therapist can instruct listening to music, playing an instrument, writing songs, discussing music, making music, or dancing to music. Music therapy for mental health has shown the most profound health effects. Music therapy can lessen the symptoms of various conditions, including depression, anxiety, mood swings, and insomnia.
However, music therapy also has a flip side. Excessive indulgence can overstimulate the brain. Also, the wrong choice of music can aggravate symptoms and lead to brain distraction. And the use of loud music can trigger hearing problems. Thus, it is best to seek the benefits of music therapy in a well-structured manner under the guidance of a certified music therapist.
Frequently Asked Questions About Music Therapy
Q. What is music therapy generally used for?
Music therapy is used to treat numerous mental and physical health conditions.
Q. What are some of the best examples of a music therapy?
Music therapy may include listening to music, improvising songs and music, and playing an instrument.
Q. Which music therapy helps one with mental health?
Though music therapy cannot cure any mental health condition, it can lessen the symptoms of many ailments including depression, anxiety, mood swings, and insomnia.
Q. What impact does music therapy have on the brain?
Different sounds of music are processed differently by the brain. Also, different parts of the brain are involved in processing different types of music. Research shows that music therapy activates cognitive, motor, and speech centres in the brain. It stimulates the brain to slow down the release of cortisol, the stress hormone and increases the production of endorphins and dopamine, the body’s ‘feel-good’ hormones.