Who Are Candidates for Music Therapy?
In addition to clinical therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychotherapy, holistic therapies are increasingly part of treatment programs for people with substance addictions and mental illnesses. When used within a medical context, the term “holistic” refers to something that treats an individual as a whole person. For example, psychiatric medications regulate brain chemicals involved in mood and emotion. They really do not treat the person as a “whole” but focus solely on stabilizing these chemicals to improve mood and relieve depression or anxiety.
On the other hand, holistic therapies like music therapy seek to improve the wellbeing of the whole person (mind, body, spirit). Addiction and mental illness can often deprive people of a sense of joy and life meaning and purpose. This dynamic makes it hard to set and achieve goals, only reinforcing the existing deprivation of joy and life meaning and purpose. For people who find themselves in this space, music therapy can serve as a gateway to discovering new things they enjoy doing and excel at, whether it is learning to play an instrument, write songs, dance, paint or meditate.
Music Therapy and Visualization Techniques
Visualization is a valuable coping technique involving meditation and calming deep breathing exercises. A combination of music therapy and visualization can promote relaxation and regrouping of the mind and body. While listening to music and visualizing their goals, people in addiction or mental health treatment learn how to energize their thoughts with positive emotions that are powerful and decisive. This gives them deep insight into a sense of meaning and purpose they may have never before experienced.
Music therapy used in conjunction with visualization can help people in treatment tap into painful emotions and express them verbally or creatively. When included in a treatment program, music therapy and visualization often reinforce a person’s ability to address stress and past traumas cathartically. For example, patients at treatment centers with music therapy programs (like FHE Health) often discover that music has a profound and lasting positive effect on their journey towards spiritual and emotional healing.
5 Ways Music Therapy Helps People in Addiction and Mental Health Treatment
1. Improves Mood and Attitude
Neuroscientists studying how the brain reacts to music have found that the brain region responsible for processing language also processes music. In other words, our brains respond to tones, rhythms, and melodies in general as though someone is speaking to us.
In addition, the emotional significance we attribute to certain types of music (classical, rock, blues, hip-hop) stems directly from a person’s life experience. For example, if you were a teenager in the 80s, you may be more likely to feel happy and nostalgic when listening to Cyndi Lauper or Bon Jovi. Alternately, if you grew up in a dysfunctional family who listened to 80s music, you might feel depressed or anxious when hearing the same music— because it’s a reminder of troubled times.
2. Promotes Safe Exploration of Emotions
Addictions and mental illnesses often develop in the absence of healthy coping tools for handling hurtful memories and the painful emotions associated with these memories. Music therapy can help people verbalize emotions they previously could not understand. Learning as much as possible about suppressed feelings and thoughts allows people in recovery to confront and manage them in a productive and therapeutic manner.
3. Music Therapy as an Emotional Release
People in recovery may want to take music therapy a step further by learning how to play an instrument. Banging on drums, singing, or playing the piano is a great way to acknowledge and express difficult emotions. Listening to music that stirs emotions can lead to discovering creative outlets someone may have never explored, such as writing poetry, short stories, drawing or painting. (In this way, music therapy sometimes encourages people in treatment to seek new careers as artists once they have completed their recovery program.)
4. Enhances Communication With Therapists and Counselors
Music has a way of making us feel safe and connected to our inner selves. Feeling safe when dealing with crippling emotions makes it easier to talk to mental health or addiction therapists. After listening quietly to their favorite music, most people in recovery find themselves talking more openly and with less anxiety about their thoughts and emotions.
5. Overall Benefits of Music Therapy
Including music therapy sessions in a treatment program helps relieve depression and anxiety, promotes self-awareness, increases a person’s ability to communicate more clearly with others and improves self-esteem. It often leads people to discover the joys of feeling calm, centered and focused for the first time in their lives. Music therapy is also conducive to enhancing physical health by reducing blood pressure and strengthening the immune system’s response to infections.
Research Involving Music Therapy for Treating Drug and Alcohol Addiction
A trial study published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Review examined whether music therapy in a CBT group improved patient engagement at a private treatment facility. Results found that attendance rates reached 75 percent after music therapy was included in group CBT sessions. Nearly 85 percent of study participants said they would continue attending CBT sessions as long as music therapy remained. Additionally, authors of the study noted that music therapy promoted engagement of substance abuse patients of all age groups (25 years and up).
The Journal of Addictions Nursing published a meta-analysis of studies investigating the benefits of music therapy on substance abuse and mental health patients. Results include positive emotional changes seen in people who write their own songs or interpret songs and decreases in anger and depression in those who dance to music. One interesting study found that drumming was “correlated with relaxation and appeared useful to people who have relapsed.” Additionally, music therapy was associated with substance abuse patients viewing their treatment programs more positively. When music was included in both individual and group therapy sessions, participants were more willing to contribute to the conversation.
Is Music Therapy Right For You?
At FHE Health, we believe anyone who wants to recover from an addiction or mental illness should have every treatment option available to them. For more information about music therapy at FHE and how we integrate it with other therapies as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, call us anytime.