What Is Music Therapy & How Does It Work?

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As defined by the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy “is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”

Music therapy has been helpful in addressing the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive needs of clients. Through the use of this therapy, a client’s skills and abilities are able to become stronger. This helps them transfer those skills to other areas of their lives.

Anyone can undergo music therapy and reap the benefits it has to offer. It has been found to be helpful in addressing mental health issues, learning and developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s, addiction, physical disabilities, brain injuries, and acute/chronic pain.

It should be understood, however, that music therapy should not be used as a primary form of treatment but rather used alongside other treatment methods to aid in healing and recovery.

Five Factors of Music Therapy

There are five factors that contribute to the effects of music therapy. Each of these factors is extremely important in how it works and benefits patients:

Modulation of Attention

Music is able to distract people and grab their attention. In doing this, it is able to distract stimuli that may lead to negative thoughts or experiences, including worrying, anxiety, depression, pain, and others. From this distraction, the effects of these negative thoughts and emotions can be reduced. A good example of this is the reduction of pain during medical procedures by listening to music.

Modulation of Emotion

Music can stimulate emotions, regulating the activity within certain regions of the brain. The specific regions involved are the ones concerning initiation, maintenance, generation, termination, and the modulation of emotions.

Modulation of Cognition

This modulation is associated with memory processes such as storage, encoding, and the decoding of musical information as well as the events associated with certain musical experiences. This helps to analyze the musical syntax and its meaning.

Modulation of Behavior

Music has been shown to impact one’s movement and behavior. This can include walking, speaking, and other behaviors.

Modulation of Communication

It is understood that music is its own form of communication and can play a major role in relationships through both non-verbal and preverbal language. For those that are verbal, music can aid them in accessing pre-verbal experiences. It also allows non-verbal individuals to communicate with others without words. In this way, music helps in interactions between people, helping them to be more emotional and relationship-oriented than verbal language allows them to be.

Music Therapy for Addiction

In terms of addiction treatment, music therapy can be used in a number of spaces such as in-patient treatment programs, out-patient programs, individual and group therapies, and other programs. By using music therapy in these treatment options, a client’s stress is reduced. Music therapy helps recovering addicts relax and helps them adjust better to recovery.

For addicts in recovery, a music therapist often works with the other specialists in the treatment program to tailor treatment to the person’s overall recovery and treatment goals. This helps enhance the individual’s overall emotional adjustment and helps improve their physical and mental health by relieving stress. The music is used to focus on and improve different areas such as memory and attention.

The therapy also helps reduce cravings and relieve feelings of shame, guilt, and regret that are associated with the addiction. Often, these feelings are tied to past actions that occurred while the person was using drugs or alcohol. Through the therapy, they can begin to explore these actions and the feelings attached to them. Coping with negative thoughts for past and present situations is also aided by music therapy, which in turn can elevate the patient’s mood.

Benefits of Music Therapy

Music therapy can calm individuals that are in the early stages of recovery. It helps them deal with emotional problems by putting them into perspective. This helps cope with triggers—such as anxiety, stress, boredom, self-doubt, and loneliness—that could lead to relapse.

Through music recovery, individuals are able to find something positive about recovery that doesn’t involve alcohol or drugs. Rational decisions are easier to make as a person’s mind is more clear while listening to music. Ultimately, music therapy can be incredibly helpful alongside other forms of treatment for those in recovery.

Who Runs a Music Therapy Session?

A music therapy session is taught by a person that has completed the approved criteria and has passed the national exam given by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. Sessions differ from client to client in order to address individual needs. This is one of the reasons why music therapy is included in the group of experiential therapies.

Experiential therapy is typically more individualized, helping patients identify subconscious concerns and issues by addressing them with various activities and re-enactments of events. Music is a powerful tool that can be used to do this, reminding individuals of certain events simply by hearing certain notes or a specific melody. In this way, mindfulness is brought to light and patients can begin to become aware of things they may have been hiding in their subconscious in order to heal.

Music therapy treats individuals through singing, dancing, or listening to music. It has been found to be beneficial in treating chronic pain, mental health issues, learning and developmental disabilities, brain injuries, addiction, physical disabilities, and Alzheimer’s. There are five factors that contribute to the effects of music therapy, each playing a role in the healing process. Many modern treatment centers have begun utilizing this form of therapy to treat their patients alongside other treatment programs. NorthStar Transitions offers music therapy as well as other experiential therapies. To learn more about how music therapy can help you heal, contact NorthStar today at (303) 558-6400.