Exploring the Benefits and Different Techniques of Music Therapy

Three people sitting on the floor playing the guitar, maracas, and tambourine.
  • Music therapy is a professional healthcare discipline that can be used to benefit physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs.

  • Applying methods of music therapy to your daily routine can improve your mood and reduce your stress levels.

  • Music therapists are licensed practitioners who create personalized treatments with diverse techniques for using music as a healing force.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is a powerful and evidence-based approach to therapeutic practices, targeting various physical and mental health issues. Dating back to ancient cultures, music has been acknowledged among diverse cultures for its profound impact on emotions, well-being, and overall health.

Music therapy is a professional healthcare discipline that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs. Music can act as a stimulant for the brain, activating multiple regions at once. Additionally, music has the ability to evoke emotional responses, which also triggers brain activity.

Music as a healing influence is said to positively affect people living with mental health issues like anxiety, developmental disorders such as autism, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, and even physical pain from cancers or other traumas.

Exploring the benefits and techniques of music therapy can help you to understand the healing nature of music and encourage you to incorporate music healing into your daily life. You may also be inclined to seek the guidance of a professional music therapist.

Music therapists

Music therapists are highly trained licensed practitioners who develop music-based treatments specific to their patients.

Having thoroughly studied music theory, psychology, and biological, social, and behavioral sciences, music therapists are able to properly understand and practice music therapy to benefit patients with varying conditions. Along with a Bachelor’s degree, or a higher professional qualification, intensive training is required to become a music therapist.

Becoming a music therapist also requires creativity and compassion. Different genres of music, rhythms and tempos — and even lyrics — may affect patients in diverse ways. Music therapists must have the skills necessary to adapt and expand their treatments depending on the needs of their patients.

Applications of Music Therapy

Music therapy can take place in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation centers. The application of music therapy in mental health settings can be an alternative or supplementary treatment in addressing conditions such as anxiety, depression, and trauma disorders.

Music therapy can be instrumental in special education and working with individuals who have developmental disabilities or learning challenges. It can be an avenue for exploring creativity or relaxation.

The use of music therapy in geriatric care, especially in patients with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, is very common. Music can be a way to encourage moving of the body, and can even act as a stimulant for memory.

The Benefits of Music Therapy

There are a wide range of benefits associated with music therapy. Music has the power to promote emotional, physical, cognitive, and social well-being.

Emotional benefits

Stress reduction is key to improving mood and overall emotional state of mind. Music therapy can reduce stress by limiting the production of cortisol and promoting the release of stress-reducing neurotransmitters.

The production of dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins is also increased with music. These chemicals and hormones promote overall well-being by signaling feelings of happiness and positivity to your brain.

Music also encourages self-expression, which heightens self-confidence. With a newly found sense of self-esteem, you can feel better about yourself, which may improve your quality of life.

In addition, music can serve as a connector between people. Your stress may be reduced if you can relate to the lyrics of a song, or if a song bridges you to others. Reducing your sense of isolation can help you to reconnect with positive feelings.

Physical benefits

Music therapy can be used for pain management and to relax muscles. It has been used in patients of many different ages with cancer and other serious diseases.

Patients with physical pain who engage in music therapy have shown significant progress and improvement. Music serves as a stress reliever which can provoke positive physiological changes such as:

  • Lowering heart rate

  • Lowering blood pressure

  • Relaxing muscles

  • Improving breathing

When your mind is at ease and distracted from the distress of your condition, your body can more fully focus on recovery.

Young girl connected to an EKG machine with a nose cannula smiling with her headphones on.

Music and motor rehabilitation

Research suggests that music can support motor skills and rehabilitation, as music is a motivator for movement. The auditory rhythmic cues in music are used to stimulate paced walking in people with Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, and other neurological disorders.

Since the tempo of a song is consistent, the patient can anticipate and plan their next step. As the patient listens to the song, their pace can become regulated. This can help their muscles remember and emulate these movements in the future, even when no music is present.

Cognitive benefits

Neurologic music therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on using music to address cognitive speech and language dysfunctions.

Music and speech rehabilitation

Music therapy may help rehabilitate brain function that advances communication for those who may have lost some or all of their language abilities.

Children with autism, or adults who have developed an aphasia caused by a stroke, can struggle to communicate verbally. Music can serve as a tool for understanding and developing speech patterns.

Music as a memory enhancer

The use of music as a memory enhancer has shown to be a potent tool in recovering memories in those who may have lost them. Music memories are said to last longer than any other type of memory, as musical memory networks operate separately from other memory networks in the brain.

When you listen to music, so many different parts of your brain activate, and neural pathways that weren’t once linked can begin to connect again. These new connections may trigger old memories to resurface in the brain.

Social benefits

Music therapy has a huge impact on promoting social interaction and fostering a sense of belonging. Specific music therapy techniques can be used for the advancement of social skills.

Music has historically been used as a way to unite groups and express aspects of culture. Listening to music that connects you to new communities or ideas can have an immense impression on your interpersonal skills.

Music therapy as an intervention for children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) aims to use music as a means to address behavioral issues. Music therapy techniques allow for a safe space where patients can calmly discuss their feelings and thoughts in order to bring unconscious feelings and attitudes to light.

Additionally, music is used to increase alertness, relaxation, and creativity, while promoting self-confidence and autonomy.

Research Findings

According to the American Music Therapy Association, modern music therapy grew significantly after World War II. Musicians performed for veterans with physical injuries and PTSD in local hospitals, and recovery rates for physical and emotional conditions increased. Professional music therapy then became endorsed and encouraged by the Army and Office of the Surgeon General.

More recent studies have found that listening to classical music resulted in a temporary boost of cognitive abilities measured through a series of abstract and spatial reasoning tests. This short-term improvement is referred to as the “Mozart effect”. The study concluded that the enjoyment of classical music — along with its rhythmic and repetitive elements — can help regulate brain function.

The power of music memory as a force to retrieve memories that were seemingly lost has been utilized to improve behavior and cognitive ability in patients with dementia. A study on Alzheimer patients concluded that music interventions can serve as a beneficial non-pharmaceutical alternative.

Music that was familiar to the patients – nursery rhymes, popular songs from their childhood or adolescence, songs with personal significance – effectively engaged people with Alzheimer’s disease by promoting “involuntary memories”.

Music memory has been shown to have a longer lifespan because musical memory networks are independent of other memory networks in the brain. Music can activate multiple regions of the brain, reestablishing and repairing connections that may have been lost to dementia.

Music Therapy for Self-Care

You can incorporate music into your daily life for self-care and emotional well-being, and there are many different approaches to take. Finding the right musical outlets for you can lead you to new means of self-care.

Man laying back on his couch and relaxing while listening to music on his headphones.
Key Point: Music Can Help to Put Your Mind at Ease

Songs with slower tempos can help to put you in a state of relaxation and calm your nerves. Furthermore, music matching the resting heart rate (60-80 bpm) can restore your tranquility and emotional control.

Creating personalized playlists

Listening to songs that you associate with happiness can play a significant role in improving your mood. Whether the songs remind you of a happier time, the lyrics make you smile and feel good, and/or the tempo calms your nerves, music can act as a memory stimulant.

The power of identifying certain songs with a stress-free and happy time can drastically influence your mood.

Engaging in music-based relaxation exercises

Practicing receptive techniques can help you engage with music to experience relaxation, reflection, or emotional release.

Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) is an exercise where visual images combined with purposeful music are used to help you relax. In this state of relaxation, you are able to reach a deeper consciousness which can help in emotional healing processes.

By channeling certain areas of your life that you want to focus on, you can uncover feelings and ideas that were hard to reach without the help of music.

Exploring musical activities

There are a variety of musical activities you can do to improve your mood or help you relax. There is no right or wrong way to engage with music as a form of relaxation, and you don’t need to have any musical abilities to benefit from music therapy. Some ideas to help you explore music include:

  • Song writing: Being creative and writing down your thoughts can be a great way to decompress and express yourself. Songwriting is a form of journaling, and expressing your emotions through writing can be freeing and mitigate your stresses and anxieties.

Learning to play an instrument: Focusing on a new skill can be helpful in redirecting your energy. Trying something new can be exciting and distract you from the stresses of your daily routine.

  • Dancing to music: Letting your body move and be free can loosen you up after a tough day. Whether you’re alone or with loved ones, dancing and connecting with music can be extremely therapeutic.

  • Singing along to your favorite song: Sometimes it’s difficult to express yourself in your own words. Singing along to a song that has lyrics you can relate to can help you connect with an artist. Knowing others have similar struggles to your own, can help you to not feel so isolated.

  • Exploring new genres: The world of music is extremely vast, and there is countless music to discover. Exploring different sounds and styles can promote creativity and help you find the genre that best resonates with you.

Group of friends dancing at home and smiling.

Seeking Professional Music Therapy

Consulting with a qualified music therapist can help you understand how you can benefit from music therapy. Ask about finding a personalized treatment that can help with the challenges you’re facing, whether they are physical, emotional, cognitive, or social.

A certified music therapist may be able to provide guidance on at-home techniques you can use daily, or work with you in private or group music therapy sessions.

It is important to communicate openly with your music therapist and actively participate in the therapeutic process to feel the benefits and inherent healing nature of music. Make an appointment with your doctor to talk about how music therapy could benefit you.

One of the many pluses of music therapy is that there are no negative side effects to this treatment. Having the freedom to explore what you do and don’t like in a treatment gives you the power to experiment until you discover what techniques truly benefit you.

With music therapy, you have control of your healing. Using music as a healing power will certainly lead to personal growth and promote your well-being.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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