A favorite song instantly transports us to another time and place. Lullabies soothe babies to sleep, and military bands send soldiers off to war. Music in all its forms has a mysterious power to affect how we think, feel, and behave — and that power can be harnessed for healing.

Since humanity’s earliest days, people have turned to music for healing and hope. Now, research supports what our ancestors always knew – that music in all its forms has potent benefits for both mind and body. The fast-growing field of music therapy uses the insights of that research and the spirit of ancient drumming circles and fireside songs to ease the symptoms of conditions as varied as anxiety, chronic pain, Alzheimer’s disease, alcoholism and other kinds of addiction.

Music Therapy Definition

Music therapy is a clinical field dedicated to the applications of music to accomplish specific goals within a therapeutic setting. It’s part of a broader group of creative therapies that use activities like drawing, painting, writing, or dancing to treat a wide range of mental and physical conditions.

Music therapy was first used in US military hospitals during World War II as a way of helping service members recover from the physical and emotional traumas of combat. Since then, this rapidly expanding therapeutic field has used insights from research in areas as varied as psychology, neurobiology, and music theory to develop individualized programs and interventions to treat a long and growing list of emotional and physical conditions, including:

  • Anxiety and depression. Listening to certain kinds of music can be as effective as prescription medications for relieving anxiety and depressive moods, according to recent research.
  • Chronic pain. Because music can boost the production of serotonin and dopamine, it can help to reduce the intensity of pain signaling to provide relief from chronic pain from trauma or diseases such as arthritis and cancer.
  • AutismResearch revealsthat the rhythms of music can calm children with autism and reduce stress-triggered behaviors.
  • Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Since music can trigger vivid memories, listening to familiar songs can boost memory and cognitive function in people with dementia. Making music, such as singing or playing an instrument, also supports the development of new neural connections in the brain.
  • PTSD. Listening to music or making it can help people with PTSD to process traumatic memories and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
  • Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions. Listening to music can support brain areas associated with movement and coordination. Making music encourages fine motor skills and promotes the development of new neural connections in the brain.
  • Substance abuse disorders. Listening to and making music can support people in outpatient or inpatient addiction treatment by boosting the brain’s supply of serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters related to addictive behaviors. Making music can encourage self-confidence and encourages connecting with others.

Learn more about how music supports your journey to recovery at Transformations. Call us today at 888-995-6013.

Music therapy can take place in just about any setting, and it can benefit people of any age. Music therapy has been used to support healthy sleeping and eating patterns in newborns and premature infants, and a recent study showed that it can be as effective as prescription medications in relieving the anxiety of children facing surgery. At the other end of the spectrum, music therapy can also boost memory and cognition in older adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia.

How Does Music Heal?

Music has been a part of human life since our earliest days, but why that’s so has remained largely a mystery. Now, though, research in the neurosciences suggests that music might have an essential role to play in supporting human survival and building social bonds.

According to recent research, listening to music triggers the release of neurotransmitters that stimulate the brain’s centers for pleasure, reward, and arousal. These powerful substances, including the “feel good” chemicals dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, as well as the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, trigger responses in the parasympathetic nervous system. In that way, calming music can help to reduce anxiety and responses to pain signaling. Likewise, upbeat, loud music can be energizing.

In patients facing surgery, music therapy can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety better than typically prescribed pharmaceuticals. And listening to music triggers memories — complete with sensory details such as smell and taste — so powerfully that the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America has created guidelines for how to use music to improve functioning and quality of life at every stage of the disease.

Research also reveals that music affects pathways in many areas of the brain related to cognition, emotion, and sensorimotor processing. That’s why music therapy can also help people with neurological disorders that affect coordination and movement, such as Parkinson’s disease.

Music in all its forms can support neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to create new neural connections. That can help explain how music can help people with cognitive and memory problems. But making music, rather than simply listening to it, improves the brain’s neuroplasticity and boosts coordination, muscle responses and flexibility.

Group music-making sessions, such as drumming, singing, or performing, also encourage socialization and communication. Creating a “musical community” has so many benefits that drumming circles, singing groups and other music-centered activities are making their way into settings such as nursing homes, memory care facilities and rehab centers.

How Does Music Therapy Work?

Listening to music or making it can be therapeutic in itself.  But not all “therapeutic music” is music therapy.

Music is often used to make people feel better. A musician might be invited into a hospital to play for a hospitalized patient. A social worker could organize a sing-along in a support group, and a dental patient might put on some upbeat music to distract from an unpleasant procedure. Just about everyone has experienced the therapeutic benefit of music in some way.

Music therapy provides the support of a qualified therapist who can help patients process emotions that arise in the presence of music and guide the session in the direction of their goals. To do that, music therapists work within a structured plan that’s tailored to individual needs. That plan can include:

  • Listening to music and discussing it with the therapist
  • Writing an original song that helps to process an experience or trauma
  • Making music with a drum or other instrument
  • Vocalizing, such as singing, humming, or chanting
  • Moving to music, which could include tapping a foot, swaying to music, or dancing
  • Collaborating with others to make music or perform it

Music therapy sessions can mix and match all these techniques to achieve the program’s goals, and therapists can adapt techniques as circumstances change. Anyone can participate in music therapy — no musical experience or talent is required. A music therapy session can include any kind of musical activity that feels comfortable, but you can try something new, like learning to play an instrument or writing a song, if you’d like.

Who Can Become a Music Therapist?

A professional music therapist must complete at least a BA degree in Music Therapy, along with clinical training and an internship in an accredited music therapy program. These qualifications allow a new graduate to take the national board certification exam for the credential MT-BC (Music Therapist – Board Certified). Graduate study in Music Therapy typically focuses on research and advanced clinical practice.

Music therapists can work with other healthcare professionals as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, or they can provide services independently. Music therapy is comparable to occupational and physical therapy. So, music therapy can be reimbursable under a variety of insurance plans, including Medicare, if it’s prescribed by a physician and supports a documented treatment plan with clear goals for improvement. That allows people in outpatient programs as well as settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and addiction treatment centers to get the benefits of music therapy alongside standard treatments for their conditions.

Since ancient times, music has been used to soothe, to heal, and to stir emotion. Now, music therapy provides a framework for harnessing the many benefits of music for healing the body, mind, and spirit on the road to recovery from addiction.

Learn more about our music therapy program for addiction recovery. Contact us today at 888-995-6013.