“Music is my therapy,” “I have a therapist – her name is music,” “Music is truly a form of therapy”. These quotes, and others like these have been superimposed on artsy pictures and circulated around the web for years. For many people, these quotes speak the truth, which is that music is a form of therapy. Music can alleviate a bad mood, provide motivation, or be a distraction from the rest of the world when needed. Is music a clinically effective form of therapy? Can music be used as a therapeutic tool? Can music therapy be helpful for people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness? The answer to all of these questions is yes. The emerging field of music therapy has grown in the past century and will continue to grow as its effects are discovered. Board Certified Music Therapists work with many types of people, including those with mental illnesses.
What is music therapy?
Music Therapy is the use of music as a therapeutic tool by a trained professional to address an individual’s specific non-musical goals. Music Therapists do not address musical goals, but rather use music as their therapeutic medium to provide clients with different means of reaching a goal. The goal that the therapist and client are working towards could be physical, emotional, communicative, social, cognitive, or behavioral. A music therapist is trained to address all these areas of need by completing approved coursework in psychology, anatomy and physiology, sociology, and of course music! After completing the coursework and required internship, a music therapist must become board certified. Being board certified ensures that music therapy is delivered effectively and safely by someone who follows the approved standards of practice. The standards of practice and code of ethics for music therapy are set by the American Music Therapy Association and the Certification Board for Music Therapists.
Why is music an effective therapeutic tool?
There are many reasons why music is an effective therapeutic tool. Music is a universal phenomenon. Almost every culture in the world participates in the purposeful and functional use of music. Music can be enjoyed across the lifespan in many different forms and styles. There is a type of music out there for everyone. Effective music therapists will take into account an individual’s age, culture, and musical preference when choosing music to use in a therapy session. In addition to the different styles of music that exist, there are several other reasons why music is a safe, effective medium for therapy. Music provides both auditory and tactile stimulation. Music is a means of self-expression. Music is a motivator and distraction. Music is safe; familiar styles of music will always follow our expectations, and eventually resolve to a nice-sounding ending.
How is mental illness defined?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (Fifth Edition) published by the American Psychiatric
Music has proven to be effective in reducing symptoms that many people who have mental illnesses have, regardless of specific diagnosis. Symptoms of psychosis and feelings of anxiety and tension can be decreased through music therapy. Self-esteem, motivation, social skills, and self-expression can be increased using music therapy. Several studies published in peer-reviewed journals such as The Journal of Music Therapy, Arts in Psychotherapy, and Music Therapy Perspectives have used evidence-based practices to prove the effectiveness of music-based interventions for reducing the symptoms associated with mental illnesses. Music-based interventions are effective when working with people suffering from mental illnesses because it acts as a therapeutic medium.
People who suffer from mental illness may also face social stigmatization and isolation in addition to the symptoms they have as a result of their specific illness. Because of this stigmatization and isolation, people who have mental illness may become very closed off and may have trouble expressing themselves, even to a therapist. Though any therapy is supposed to be a safe place for people to be open and expressive, people may feel uncomfortable and vulnerable doing so. Music therapists allow their clients to express themselves by playing music, which is safer and more comfortable for most people. Self-expression is one of the many areas that music therapists help improve with people who have mental illnesses.
When working with people with mental illnesses, music therapists address goals within several areas of functioning. A music therapist may work with a client who suffers from depression. Though the music therapist cannot cure the client’s depression, he or she can work with the client to improve some of the symptoms of depressions, such as low self-esteem. The music therapist may construct a goal that requires the client to make positive self statements during sessions. In a session, the music therapist will play and sing self-empowering songs with the client. A client who suffers from anxiety could also benefit from music therapy. The music therapist will create a goal to help the client learn anxiety-coping skills. This may be some sort of music-assisted relaxation that the client can also use when feeling anxious in other situations. These are only two examples of goals that music therapists can address with people who have mental illness.
Music truly is therapy. Though many people use music as their own form of therapy, music can truly be a therapeutic medium. When applied by a certified music therapist, music can be an extremely effective tool for addressing the symptoms associated with mental illnesses.