The Benefits of Music Therapy

If you like music, you probably already know it can affect your mood. Maybe you put on your favorite song to pump yourself up for an important meeting or listen to soothing music when you’re relaxing at home before bed. Research has demonstrated the benefits of music therapy for people with depression and anxiety. While music therapy is often used to promote mental and emotional health, it may also improve the quality of life for people with physical health problems.

What Is Music Therapy?

A music therapy session may incorporate different elements, such as making music, writing songs, or listening to music. Music therapists are trained in more than music; their education often covers a wide range of clinical skills, including communication, cognitive neuroscience, psychological disorders, as well as chronic illness and pain management. When you begin working with a music therapist, you will start by identifying what your goals are. For example, if you have depression and feel “down and out” most days, you may hope to use music to naturally lift your mood. You may also want to try applying music therapy to other symptoms of depression like anxiety, insomnia, or trouble focusing.

What Happens During a Session
Depending on your goals, a typical music therapy session lasts between 30 minutes to one hour. Much like you would plan sessions with a psychotherapist, you may choose to have a set schedule for music therapy—say, once a week. Or, you may choose to work with a music therapist on a more casual “as-needed” basis. Music therapy is often one-on-one, but you may also choose to participate in group sessions if they are available. Sessions with a music therapist take place wherever they practice, which might be a private office, clinic, or community health center. Wherever it happens to be, the room you work in together will be a calm environment with no outside distractions. Each music therapist will have their own routine for sessions. For example, some therapists like to start and end sessions the same way each time, perhaps with a particular song. Therapists can use many different styles and techniques depending on their education, interests, and strengths. For instance, some types of music therapy use a lot of movement. If you have physical pain or illness, it’s important to ask your music therapist about the techniques they use to make sure they will be a good fit for you.

How Music Helps You Heal
You may be asked to tune in to your emotions as you perform these tasks or allow your feelings to direct your actions. For example, if you are angry you might play or sing loud, fast, and dissonant chords. In addition to using music to express your feelings without words, you may also explore ways to change how you feel with music. If you express anger or stress, your music therapist might respond by having you listen to or create music with slow, soft, soothing tones. You may notice that switching to calm music makes you feel calm—and there’s a scientific explanation. Several studies have shown that heart rate and blood pressure readings respond to changes in volume and tempo. Between sessions, your music therapist may give you shorter exercises to do at home. They may recommend using apps on your smartphone to play music, generate sounds, and track your progress.

Who Can Use Music Therapy?
If you don’t consider yourself musical, that’s OK. You don’t need any musical ability or previous experience to benefit from music therapy. Music therapy can be highly personalized, making it suitable for people of any age. Even very young children can benefit from music therapy. In fact, you’d likely recognize the foundations and techniques in most preschool classrooms.

Children and young adults who have developmental and/or learning disabilities can use music therapy to strengthen motor skills and learn to communicate more effectively. Adults may find music therapy useful for everything from simple stress management to treating mental and physical illness. Older adults may have much to gain from music therapy in a group setting where it can fulfill social needs as well as promote physical and mental well-being. If you’d like to explore music therapy, talk to your doctor or therapist. They can connect you with practitioners in your community. You’ll also want to check your health insurance benefits. Music therapy sessions may be covered or reimbursable under your plan, but you may need a referral from your doctor.