Music has been with us for thousands of years as a form of entertainment, communication, celebration, and mourning.
There are so many different emotions that music can help us to express, and it is a language that we share universally, as well as one that everyone can understand.
The style of music that we listen to most and enjoy may change every decade, but that sense of communication and feeling always remains.
If you, or someone close to you, suffer from mental health conditions, you may find that they listen to music quite a lot, or even play it.
Music has a way of helping us express emotions that we don’t even understand ourselves, and can put these feelings into meaningful lyrics, or just a tune that resonates with every fibre of our being.
For many, music is a lifeline that keeps them tethered to the world, and without it, so many of us would be lost entirely.
It is because of this link that music therapy was developed, and it is a great way to learn how to channel your feelings and combat mental illness.
As someone who suffers from crippling anxiety and waves of depression, I have always been interested in trying this form of therapy out.
Whether you like to play the music or listen to it, you might be surprised to discover how beneficial this form of treatment can be, and in this extensive article, we look at the different ways in which music therapy can boost mental health.
Music Therapy: What it is and its General Impact
Music therapy is classed as a form of expressive therapy that works to improve physical and mental health through the expression of emotions.
There are two forms of music therapy, and these are called active and receptive. In the former, you will create music with your therapist or group (depending on the type of therapy you have sought).
This helps you to deal with emotions, alleviate stress, and can even relieve the symptoms of conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Receptive music therapy, on the other hand, is where you listen to music while you draw or partake in other relaxing activities.
In short, music therapy tends to consist of three potential activities: playing music, singing, or listening to music.
You can either create your own music or learn to play specific pieces that you will practice and develop over time – it depends on your personal preferences.
You also have plenty of choices, as you can decide what kind of music therapy you take as well as the type of music that you play.
One thing that makes a lot of people nervous is the fact that they do not know how to play a musical instrument. The great thing is that you don’t need to worry about that. Music therapy tends to involve instruments similar to the following: Drums, Cymbals, Wood blocks, Bells, Simple harps, Xylophone, Tambourines, Maracas.
These are basic instruments that don’t require skill or knowledge, and you can still have a great deal of fun playing them. Plus, they are just as expressive as a guitar or piano.
What Can it Do for Mental Health?
So how does this form of therapy impact mental health, and what kind of general advantages can it have? We will look at the ways in which it can help specific mental illnesses later, but for now, here is what you can expect it to do for you as a whole.
For starters, music therapy starts conversation, and it gets you talking about topics that you would have otherwise found difficult to discuss by having you rework lyrics, but also analysing the words that go with some of the songs you love the most.
It creates a relaxed environment in which to talk, and one that doesn’t feel frightening or like actual therapy – allowing you to talk about past and present feelings alike without fear of judgement.
Leading on from this, you may also get the chance to write your own songs. This engages the creative parts of your mind, and rewards you with a sense of pride and self-worth. You can choose the instruments that go with the way you are feeling and create something truly expressive.
Through playing the instruments and improvising new melodies, emotional expression is encouraged, as is better socialisation – especially if you are in a therapy group.
It allows you to explore different ways of expressing emotion, and the sounds that are associated with things like rage, joy, and grief. You can also use it to learn how to control these emotions over time, using the music to transition between them.
You can listen to music in order to regulate your mood, and this is because of the way in which music is repetitive and engages the neocortex of the brain – calming you and reducing the desire to be impulsive.
Music therapy will help you to stop matching the music to your mood, as depressing music can leave us stuck in a loop.
This teaches you better habits when listening to music, and can leave you with a boosted mood. To summarise, here are the top things music therapy can help you with:
While it is most commonly associated with children, ADHD does last into adulthood, and it can be just as difficult to cope with. A lack of concentration and focus, as well as seemingly endless energy, can leave those that have the condition feeling drained and frustrated. The mind has too much going on, and there feels like it’s impossible to refocus it.
Music therapy has been shown to increase the amount of dopamine produced by the body, and this is the neurotransmitter responsible for concentration and working memory.
People with ADHD have low levels of it, and so music provides a good and increased dose to keep things running smoothly. It also engages both sides of the brain, helping them to become stronger and also boosting creativity.
Due to both sides being activated at once, it also means that you can improve your concentration, and the distracted part of the mind is able to focus on the music while you concentrate on something else. This is part of improving multi-tasking as well as audio-processing and smoother thought processes.
Structure is an important part of life for those with ADHD, and music is always structured in some way – whether it’s in the lyrics or the very beat itself.
The fact that it is so organised has a soothing effect, and also means that those with ADHD can start to learn how to lead more ordered lives. This is very positive because the ADHD mind needs a lot of routine to function efficiently.
How Music Can Help Children
It can be hard having ADHD because you are so full of energy and unable to focus on one thing for more than a few minutes.
Your mind is moving at a million miles an hour, and it is hard to get it to stop. Music therapy, however, can help with a few of the symptoms quite effectively.
It has a clear beginning, middle, and end, so everything is anticipated, and in the long run, it can help a child with ADHD learn planning and organisation so that they can lead a more structured life.
ADHD brains have a pretty low dopamine level, and this is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for motivation, attention, and working memory. Music activates both sides of the brain, which means everything is engaged, and the activated brain muscles are able to become stronger – boosting things like motivation and the ability to focus.
Music therapy also gives kids a chance to get up and dance, allowing themselves to move freely and burn some of that pent-up energy. It also doubles up as a form of expression, as dance is a very emotive activity, allowing them to engage with others and tell them how they are feeling through the combination of music and dance.
It is a fun experience for those with ADHD, but also a social one. It can be hard to know how to act appropriately, especially for children, and music encourages socialisation through song and playing instruments. They learn how to work together when creating song lyrics, as well as a musical number that they can perform in the group.
Best Music for Mental Health
The ADHD mind can become distracted easily and lose focus, and so music with lyrics can actually assist with that interruption and cause a new focus for the mind. As a result, many ADHD sufferers have found that listening to classical music, or music with no lyrics in general, can help to keep the mind focused on the task at hand, as well as giving the part of the brain that interrupts you something to focus on.
Bach, Mozart, and Handel are just some of the artists that can create a peaceful background while you try to work, keeping your mind on what you are doing in the present moment. There is also a company called Focus at Will, and this creates soundtracks to suit the type of thinker you are, but also has one dedicated to those with ADHD – adults and kids alike. You might want to try it out.
How to Start Music Therapy
There are two ways in which you can start music therapy. The first is by getting a referral from your doctor – either for you or your child – and they will send you to a specific centre. Often, this is funded by the NHS. In the USA, there may be some charities that fund music therapy if you cannot afford it. In both the UK and USA, you may be expected to pay for some courses, depending on your age and circumstances.
You can also go directly to music therapy centres yourself and contact them for self-referral to one of their courses. We have gathered some of the top centres in the UK and USA for you to take a look at, so you can see what they offer and the conditions that they are able to help with.
UK Music Therapy Centres:
Nordoff Robbins: Located across the UK
British Association for Music Therapy: Located across the UK
Richmond Music Trust: Located in Twickenham and Teddington
Belltree Music Therapy Centre: Located in Brighton
The Owl Centre: Located across the South of England
USA Music Therapy Centres:
About the Author
Will is a freelance writer & blogger. If you are interested in more information on music therapy, audio guides and gear reviews, be sure to check out Will’s articles at Myaudiosound.co.uk
To check out Wills full article on Music Therapy and Mental Health visit Will’s site at https://www.myaudiosound.co.uk/music-therapy-benefits/