An often-used expression is, music soothes the savage beast. Well, as it turns out, music also does wonders for the more emotionally-contained humanity. Music has long been used to provide comfort for mankind. When sleep escaped him, Saul turned to David, who soothed him with music from his harp. In the early annals of medicine, Hippocrates and Aristotle made effective use of music for therapeutic benefits.
In the 14th century, Arab hospitals had music rooms to benefit patients. The use of music was well established by native American healers through drum circles, chants, and dances. In our modern era, music therapy started being actively used during World War II, when musicians would travel to hospitals (mainly in the U.K.) playing music to soothe soldiers who were overcoming the effects of injuries, both physical and psychological.
What is it exactly about music that has such a beneficial effect? In a 2004 study, Hsu and Lai found that patients suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD) who were exposed to music as part of their therapy showed a measurable decrease in depression. Additionally, the same study found that the effects were cumulative, prompting them to encourage nurses working in psychiatric units to add soft music to improve outcomes.
In a study by Castillo-Pérez, Gómez-Pérez, Velasco, Pérez-Campos & Mayoral (2010) music therapy was directly compared to such traditional therapies as psychotherapy, pharmaceuticals and electroconvulsive therapy and music therapy was again found to be more effective in reducing the amount of depression in the subjects tested.
First of all, people who are suffering from depression are experiencing a reduction in pleasurable experiences. Music provides a pleasurable experience. The physical nature of music draws us in, even if we are initially resistant to it. Who of us can say we never caught our toes tapping to an enjoyable tune? The third, and potentially most valuable part of music therapy is relating. Music taps into our psyche, allowing us to bring up feelings that are deep inside. Music therapists can use this to skillfully draw up encapsulated traumas and experiences that have been resistant to other forms of therapeutic intervention.
What do clients do in music therapy?
At Morningside Recovery, clients in our music therapy program engage with music in the following ways:
- Improvising: the client makes up his or her own music extemporaneously, playing or singing whatever arises in the movement. This may be completely spontaneous or under guided direction of the music therapist, depending on the therapeutic objective
- Re-creating: In these sessions, re-creating or creating variations on existing music is performed. This may include learning how to compose, produce instrumental sounds, imitating musical phrases, participating in sing-alongs, taking music lessons or more as deemed necessary by the music therapist.
- Composing: In these sessions, the music therapist helps the client to write songs, lyrics, or instrumental pieces, providing whatever level of support is appropriate to the individual need. Usually, the therapist simplifies the process by providing expertise the client may not have to perform the more technical aspects of musical composition.
- Music therapy is just one of the many therapeutic approaches used at Morningside Recovery to help clients achieve success in their recovery and rehabilitation.
Castillo-Pérez, S., Gómez-Pérez, V., Velasco, M. C., Pérez-Campos, E., & Mayoral, M. A. (2010). Effects of music therapy on depression compared with psychotherapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 37(5), 387-390.
Hsu, Wei-Chi, and Hui-Ling Lai. “Effects of music on major depression in psychiatric inpatients.” Archives of psychiatric nursing 18.5 (2004): 193-199.