Music is a powerful force in our society and has been a part of all cultures since the beginning of time. According to an article in the National Geographic, the oldest musical instrument found to date is a 40,000 years old flute made from vulture bone. To illustrate the power of music in a modern context, think about the music that accompanies movies. Imagine the sense of dread conjured up when you hear the music that accompanies the shark in the 1975 film Jaws: da dum, da dum, da dum da dum da dum. Two notes, repeated, growing in intensity and speed. The music speeds up as the shark swims closer. Composer John Williams later described the theme as “simple, insistent, and driving….unstoppable, like the attack of a shark.”
According to 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 [led] by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Music therapy became a profession in the 1940s and has been used to treat substance abuse since the 1970s and has been shown to improve both physical and emotional well-being.
What Is Music Therapy?
An article published in 2016 on the National Alliance on Mental Illness website identified four major interventions used in music therapy:
- Lyric analysis. This technique can be used to elicit response from the client on topics that may be too difficult to discuss. The client can talk about the lyrics, write different lyrics, and discuss how the lyrics may relate to their own experiences.
- Improvisational music playing. In improvisational music playing, clients come together to play on simple instruments, particularly percussive instruments, and explore the connection between their feelings and the music that they created. This technique encourages emotional expression and socialization.
- Active music listening. Active music listening is used to assist with mood regulation. The rhythmic and repetitive aspects of music helps to calm listeners and reduces impulsivity. Music can be used to alter mood, first by listening to music that matches the listener’s current mood, and then shifting to music that elicits a more positive or calm state.
- Songwriting. Writing a song allows the client to express emotion in a safe way. Writing music also feeds a person’s sense of self-worth and can give a sense of pride when their piece is shared with other people.
Benefits of Music Therapy
Musical therapy produces many physical benefits, including lowered stress, improved sleep, lowered response to pain, and lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as reduced blood pressure. A major benefit is a reduction of stress. Musical therapy lowers the level of cortisol in the brain, a hormone that is released in response to a perceived threat. While a flood of cortisol can be life-saving in response to a physical threat, overexposure causes an increased risk of many health problems, including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.
Stress is also linked with an increased risk of substance abuse. A study conducted at McGill University demonstrated that music therapy improved the subject’s immune system, lowered their response to pain, and was more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery. A study conducted at Beth Israel’s Center’s Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine found that music lowered heart rates of premature babies and improved their sleep.
Music therapy is a powerful tool for both eliciting emotional responses and regulating emotion. According to an article that appeared on the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ website, music therapy is helpful in treating many mental health conditions including substance abuse, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Music can also be used to help calm patients suffering from anxiety and or those who have difficulty regulating their emotional responses.
Music Therapy and Addiction Recovery
In a review of previous studies that appeared in the journal PLosOne that looked at the use of music therapy in treating substance use disorders, it showed that music therapy was particularly helpful in facilitating emotional expression, group interaction, skill development, and an improved quality of life. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy has provided another avenue for patients to explore the connection between their emotional state and addiction and can strengthen the connection between participants and create more cohesive therapy groups. A patient’s work with music, be it an improvisational jam session, a private lesson, singing, writing a song, or moving to music, can lead to a sense of accomplishment and enhanced self-esteem. Music therapy can provide motivation for people to stay in treatment and can be a great hobby for people as they embrace a sober lifestyle and are looking for meaningful activity to fill the time that they used to spend drinking or using.
The Power of Music
Almost all cultures throughout time have engaged in creating, listening to, and moving to music. Researchers at the University of Central Florida have found that music activates almost all of the brain, and causes the neurotransmitter dopamine to be released. Researchers are still investigating the impact of music on the brain—the why of why music therapy is so effective. While researchers grapple with these questions, the rest of us can just agree that music is a very powerful link to our emotions. After all, what would a movie be without a soundtrack?
Addiction to drugs and/or alcohol can affect your entire life. To fully recover from a substance use disorder, the needs of the whole person need to be considered. It isn’t enough to simply stop the addictive behavior, the alcohol or drug abuse; the underlying emotional issues that caused the individual to turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism must be addressed. The power of music to heal is recognized by most cultures. Because of the power of music both in terms of eliciting emotional responses and stimulating the brain, music therapy is an excellent tool to use in your recovery journey. Music therapy is one of the many holistic treatment modalities that Enlightened Solutions uses in its individualized treatment plans. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction and are seeking treatment in a facility that treats the whole person, call Enlightened Solutions at (833) 801-5483.