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mental health
Music Therapy for Mental Health
by BetterSleep
Oct 29 2022 • 15 min read
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According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in five Americans suffers from mental illness in any given year.

Mental health problems can take many forms, from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These mental health problems can adversely affect a person’s life. Moreover, many mental health problems are lifelong battles for some people.

There are many different treatments for mental health problems, including music therapy. Music therapy can help improve coping skills, allowing people to relax, deal with stress, and improve their mood. It can be used to treat many mental health problems and is a good option for people who want to try something new.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy uses music to achieve therapeutic goals. It is a goal-oriented intervention, which may involve making music, singing, writing, listening, discussing, and dancing to music.

Music therapists use music to help people achieve specific goals, such as reducing anxiety, improving communication skills, or improving self-esteem. Music therapy is an effective treatment for various mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.

4 Methods of Music Therapy

Music therapy has recently gained popularity as an alternative treatment for various conditions. There are four main types of music therapy interventions: receptive, recreation, improvisation, and composition.

Receptive Music Therapy

Receptive music therapy is a treatment in which the client listens and responds to music, either verbally or silently. The music therapist chooses and manipulates the qualities of the music to promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, decrease pain, and stabilize heart rate.

This type of music therapy works well for people who cannot or who do not wish to participate actively during the sessions. The goals of receptive music therapy include:

  • promote stimulation and relaxation
  • facilitate memory or reminiscence
  • develop listening skills
  • enhance mood and reduce anxiety disorders

Further, researchers confirmed the effectiveness of music therapy in arecent study where participants who received music therapy intervention reported significantly decreased tiredness, fear, worry, and sadness. In addition, the participants showed an increase in positive emotions, such as happiness and calmness. These results suggest that receptive music therapy can be an effective support intervention for reducing stress levels.

Recreative Music Therapy

Recreative music therapy is a form of therapy that uses music to help people relax and have fun. Music therapists encourage the client to play a musical instrument, sing along to a pre-composed song, or simply listen to music.

While this therapy is appropriate for everyone, it is most applicable to children with developmental delays, people recovering from brain injury, and older people with mental health problems.

Researchers recommend recreative music therapy for children with developmental delays. Children with developmental delays often struggle with communication, socializing, and motor skills. For example, the music therapist encourages children to play instruments and sing. Playing musical instruments can help with gross and fine motor skills, social interaction, and self-expression.

Improvisation Music Therapy

Improvisation music therapy is a form of therapy that uses spontaneous music-making to connect with and express oneself. The patient can make music through simple instruments, body percussion, or voice. The therapist listens, interprets, and responds to what they hear to help the person express themselves more fully.

Musical improvisation is particularly beneficial for depression and low mood, as well as physiological processes such as rehabilitation or stress levels. It allows people to express themselves creatively, which can help them manage difficult emotions.

Typically, the therapist provides a structure for the session but allows participants to improvise within that framework. This experience can be very liberating and help people explore their feelings and emotions in a safe and supportive environment.

Composition Therapy Supports

Composition music therapy is a form of therapy that encourages clients to create their own music or lyrics. This therapy aims to help the client validate their experiences, externalize their thoughts, and promote an alternative way of expression.

One advantage of composition music therapy is that it can help validate the client’s experiences. Often, people feel like their thoughts and feelings are not understood or acknowledged by others.

Creating music can be a way for the client to express themselves in a way that is both meaningful and understandable. Additionally, externalizing thoughts and feelings can be therapeutic in itself. It can help promote an alternative form of expression and foster creativity.

Benefits of Music Therapy for Mental Health

Music therapy is an evidence-based clinical use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

Music therapy can be used to:

Improve communication skills. Music therapy can improve communication skills by helping people express themselves, connect with others, and develop nonverbal communication skills. By providing a nonjudgmental and supportive environment, music therapy can help people to feel more comfortable communicating with others.

In addition, music therapy can help to improve communication skills because it is closely linked to emotional response. It serves as a tool for people to communicate their emotions. For example, people struggling to share their feelings of sadness or anger may find it helpful to express themselves through music.

Improve social skills. Singing can help improve social skills in several ways. Singing requires cooperation and coordination between singers to produce a good sound. Coordinating can help people learn to work together and communicate better. It can also help them build confidence and reduce social anxiety.

Manage stress. For centuries, music has been used as a tool to promote relaxation. Numerous studies have shown that music can positively impact the body, mind, and emotions.

Music therapy can lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and increase levels of neurotransmitters that promote feelings of well-being. In addition, music can help to slow breathing and ease muscle tension. As a result, listening to music can be an effective way to promote relaxation and reduce stress.

Improve physical rehabilitation outcomes. Music therapy is an increasingly popular form of rehabilitation, particularly for patients undergoing physical rehabilitation.

Numerous studies have shown that music therapy can improve patients’ outcomes, helping them recover more quickly and return to their previous level of function. There are several mechanisms by which music therapy can improve rehabilitation outcomes.

First, music can help to increase motivation and engagement in the rehabilitation process. More engaged patients will likely stick with their rehabilitation program and see better results.

Second, music can help reduce pain and stress levels, particularly beneficial for patients struggling with chronic pain.

Finally, music can provide much-needed enjoyment and accomplishment during the often-challenging rehabilitation process.

Provide opportunities for expression and connection. Music therapy allows individuals to express themselves in a non-verbal way. For some, it can be challenging to express themselves through words, but music can be a way to communicate and connect with others on a deeper level.

Music can also be a form of self-expression to explore emotions and feelings. When someone can express themselves through music, it can help them feel more connected to others, and it can also help them to feel more connected to themselves.

Help in addressing mental health disorders. Music therapy can be an effective treatment for depression. Depressed patients who received music therapy showed significant reductions in feelings of guilt, shame, despair, and overall depressive symptoms. These findings suggest that music therapy may be a valuable tool for helping to improve the quality of life for people with depression.

What Is a Music Therapy Assessment?

Board-certified music therapists use music therapy assessment to determine the needs of each client and create music-based interventions to address those needs.

The therapist can assess through interviews, observations, and tests. The goal of an assessment is to create a plan to help the client reach their therapy goals.

Music therapists use assessments to:

  • understand the client’s music preferences and abilities
  • determine what type of music would be most beneficial for the client
  • identify any emotional or physical needs that can be addressed using music therapy
  • set realistic goals for the client’s music therapy journey

The assessment process is essential to ensure that the music therapy plan is tailored specifically for the client and their needs. Music therapy assessments serve as an initial intake for clients so that the music therapists can create an effective treatment plan tailored to the client’s situation.

What Goes on in a Music Therapy Session?

A typical music therapy session lasts 30-60 minutes, and clients can expect to participate in various activities designed to meet their individual needs. It can be completed individually or in a group setting where several clients work with the music therapist or individually.

Music therapists use a variety of musical interventions to address each client’s specific needs. Each session may include singing, songwriting, listening to music, playing instruments, and moving to music. During a session, the therapist encourages clients to express themselves through the following:

Singing. Singing helps improve breath control and vocal production in clients with difficulty speaking. It activates many parts of the brain, which can help to improve cognitive function.

Songwriting. Songwriting help clients express their emotions and thoughts. Music therapy researcher Felicity Baker explains that with therapeutic songwriting, “a therapist purposely engages songwriters in a creative process whereby they craft a song that has a personal meaning and simultaneously leads them through a journal of personal discovery.”

An important aspect of songwriting as a therapy is that it allows people to express the intensity of their emotions. It becomes easier for them to share their story through songwriting than in a conversation.

Listening to music. Listening to music relaxes the body and mind and promotes positive emotions. Researchers found that listening to music activates the dopaminergic response system, making it an ideal intervention for people with an autism spectrum disorder.

A study confirms that listening to music around 60 beats per minute can cause brain synchronization. The synchronization of the brain with the beat can cause alpha brainwaves that induce calmness and peace.

Playing instruments. Playing instruments help improve motor skills and coordination. Musical intervention can be a cost-effective and low-risk therapeutic intervention for patients with a wide range of cognitive, physical, and mental health conditions.

Researchers concluded that playing a musical instrument can help people with post-traumatic stress disorder cope with their symptoms. The result of the study confirms that playing a musical instrument leads to better ability in emotional expression. It also improves the self-efficacy and level of satisfaction of the participants.

Moving to music. Moving to music can be in the form of tapping your toes, or it can be in the form of dancing that requires more coordinated body movements.

The music therapist will guide and support the client as they participate in musical activities throughout the session. The music therapist may also offer feedback and interpretation of the client’s experience to help them gain insight into their thoughts and feelings.

At the end of the session, the music therapist will debrief with the client and discuss any progress made. The music therapist may also provide homework assignments or other recommendations for continued growth outside the music therapy setting.

Music Therapy and Mental Health

Music therapy can be used to help people with anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health conditions. It is not a new treatment, and many researchers acknowledge its effectiveness in healing various health conditions.

Recently, music therapy has become a popular treatment for mental health conditions. Healthcare professionals often combine it with other treatments, such as medication or counseling.

How Music Therapy Affects the Brain

Scientific evidence reveals that music is a cognitive phenomenon that benefits mental health. Music activates different brain areas, which helps a person’s cognitive, emotional, social, and physiological well-being.

While many people think of music as a simple form of entertainment, it can be pretty powerful regarding its effects on mental health. A recent case study of a professional musician with refractory epilepsy shows that the subject did not show any signs of cognitive deficits or decline in musical skills before and after temporal lobectomy surgery.

The findings from the case study suggest that music may have a protective effect on the brain, preserving cognitive function in those who have undergone extensive musical training.

7 Ways Music Therapy Can Support Mental Health

Improve cognition. Cognition refers to our mental ability to process and store information. Music therapy alters brain function and enhances cognitive areas. One study found that music therapy improved the attention span and enhanced the verbal memory recall of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Another study of an intervention called musical bridges to memory looked at the effects of music therapy on people with dementia. The study lasted 12 weeks, and the follow-up assessment after the intervention revealed increased interest, focus, and calmness in participants.

Music therapy can help improve cognition in people with dementia by providing a way to focus and be interested in something. Music can also help to calm them down and give them a sense of peace. All of these things can lead to better cognitive functioning overall.

Reduce stress. Breathing techniques, rhythmic grounding, auditory grounding, and relaxation are all strategies that music therapists use to help patients cope with mental health problems. By teaching these coping skills, music therapists hope to help patients better manage their stress and anxiety levels.

In addition, music therapy can also be used as a way to help people suffering from depression or other mental health disorders. By providing a supportive and safe environment, music therapy can help encourage positive thinking and self-expression.

Studies show that greater blood flow in the areas of the brain involve in emotional processing, such as the amygdala, increases anxiety. Researchers found that listening to music reduces the blood flow to the amygdala, which is the brain’s fear center.

Improve memory. Listening to music helps increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus. This process allows the production of new neurons that help improve memory. For example, studies confirm that people with Alzheimer’s or dementia who listened to personalized music each day improved their ability to recognize familiar faces and objects.

Help in pain management. Music therapy is an effective pain management tool, particularly for high-anxiety individuals. Music can help divert cognitive focus from pain and reduce pain by activating sensory pathways that compete with pain pathways.

Music can also help relax the body and mind, providing a welcome respite from chronic pain. Listening to calm, relaxing music at a moderate volume is recommended for maximum pain relief.

Help promote better sleep. According to research, 81% of people who listen to calming music see a positive impact on their stress and anxiety.

Listening to music with a slow, steady beat can help you fall asleep. Your heart rate naturally slows down as you drift off to sleep, and music that matches this rhythm can help guide your heart into the sleep zone. Sleep expert Michael Breus says pieces in the 60 beats-per-minute range is particularly effective for inducing sleep. So if you’re having trouble nodding off, try putting on some calm, relaxing tunes before bed.

Promote healthy interpersonal relationships. Listening to music together helps people connect on a nonverbal level, allowing them to develop strong social bonds. Music can help people feel less alone and more connected to each other as a unifying influence. A group of people who listen to or make music together shares a common experience, which opens an opportunity to build relationships.

Consequently, healthy relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners can provide support, love, and connection. These positive relationships can help buffer against stress and negative emotions.

People who try to synch with others through music develop positive social feelings. Researchers believe that coordinating with others through music triggers the release of endorphins, which are hormones that trigger positive feelings.

Develop healthy coping skills. One of the most powerful aspects of music therapy is its ability to help people develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Music therapy can provide a much-needed outlet for expression and release for many people struggling with mental health issues. In addition, music therapy can help people to develop positive self-image and confidence, as well as social skills.

Music therapy can be used to address a wide range of issues, from improving communication skills to reducing stress levels. Below are some of the popular genres used in music therapy:

Classical music. The Mozart or Vivaldi effect of classical music improves cognitive function. Classical music assists with memory recall, concentration, and focus.

Jazz. Jazz’s improvisational nature can help people think creatively and outside the box. The therapist uses jazz to enhance the client’s ability to promote self-expression and communication.

Nature sounds. Nature sounds have a calming effect that helps to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels. Some examples of nature sounds are bumblebees buzzing in the park, birds singing, and rivers flowing.

Rock music. Rock music’s energy and passion can help motivate and energize people. Rock music’s emphatic rhythm and strong melody make it ideal for people seeking to improve their speech, language, and cognitive functions.

New Age music. New-age music is a genre intended to promote relaxation, inspiration, and optimism. Listeners use it for yoga and meditation to create a state of ecstasy and a peaceful atmosphere.

Doctors have used ambient music therapy as a holistic healing intervention for various issues. Listening to new-age music artists during meditation and deep breathing exercises can help relax the mind and body, improving sleep and reducing stress levels. Ambient music therapy can improve overall health and well-being by creating a peaceful and relaxing environment.

Music Therapy to Support Mindfulness Practice

Music therapy is an effective tool to support mindfulness practice. Research has shown that music can help improve focus and attention and reduce stress and anxiety.

One study found that people who participated in a music therapy intervention significantly reduced rumination, worry, and depression. Music therapy can also help to increase self-compassion and self-awareness.

There are several ways that music therapy can be used to support mindfulness practice. One approach is to use music to focus on the present moment and let the subject listen to calming music or participate in musical activities such as singing or playing an instrument.

Music therapy can be an effective way to support mindfulness practice. If you are interested in using music therapy to help you with your mindfulness practice, consider talking to a music therapist. Music therapists are trained professionals who can tailor a music therapy intervention to meet your specific needs and goals.

Music Therapy for Children with Autism

Music therapy is a type of therapy that uses music to help children with autism. This therapy can help autistic children improve their communication, social, and behavioral skills. Music therapy can also help them learn new skills and cope with the challenges of their condition.

How Therapists Use Music for Children with Autism

Autism is not a mental health disorder but a developmental condition. Each case of autism is different, so music therapists tailor their approach to meet the needs of each child. Here are some ways that music therapists use music:

Using music to improve communication skills. Some children have difficulty communicating. A music therapist can help them learn to communicate by using songs and other musical activities. A therapist might use a song to help the child to learn to say their name. Or, a therapist might use a song to teach the child to ask for something they want.

Using music to improve social skills. One major challenge for children with autism is having trouble interacting with others. Music therapy assists these children in developing social skills by using music to encourage them to interact with others. For example, a therapist might use a song to help an autistic child learn to take turns.

Using music to improve behavioral skills. Those with autism may have difficulty controlling their behavior. These children may learn how to manage their behavior by using music to redirect their attention. The music therapist might use a song to help the child focus on an activity.

Wrap Up

Mental health is a critical issue that many people struggle with every day. But there’s good news. People suffering from mental health issues can get relief from their symptoms with music therapy.

If you or a loved one struggle with mental health issues, you could listen to scientifically proven music to promote better sleep and improve mental health. The BetterSleep app contains a library of over 100 tracks that have been carefully selected to help you get the best result possible.

The BetterSleep App is easy to use – choose the type of music that relaxes you and press play.

Music Therapy for Mental Health FAQs

How Can a Certified Music Therapist Help with Mental Health?

Certified music therapists can support mental health in several ways, including alleviating depression and stress symptoms.

While there are many forms of mental health treatments, therapists can use music as an alternative. Certified music therapists are trained to use music safely and effectively to support mental health.

What Does Board-Certified Music Therapist do?

A board-certified music therapist (MT-BC) is a highly trained and credentialed professional who uses music to address individuals of all ages’ physical, emotional, mental, and social needs. The MT-BC designs music therapy interventions to facilitate communication, promote wellness, reduce stress, and support cognitive functioning.

Music therapists use a variety of music-based approaches to achieve therapeutic goals with their clients. These may include singing, songwriting, instrument playing, listening to or moving to music, and improvising. The therapist will select music appropriate for the client’s age, interests, and abilities to engage them in the session and help them reach their goals.

Does Music Therapy Help with Mental Illnesses?

A study published in the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that music therapy may help treat symptoms of depression. The study found that music therapy was associated with a reduction in depressive symptoms and a decrease in anxiety and stress levels.

Music therapy has also been shown to help treat anxiety symptoms, according to an article published in the Medical News Today. Music therapy may help reduce anxiety and stress. While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of music therapy for mental illness, it appears that this treatment may be helpful for some people.

How Does Music Therapy Help with Depression?

Music therapy is an effective treatment for depression. Research has shown that music therapy can help to reduce symptoms of depression, improve mood, and increase the quality of life. Music therapy can also help to increase social interaction and reduce isolation.

How Can Music Therapy Translate to Education?

Music therapy can be used as a way to teach children with special needs. It can help them develop social, communication, and motor skills.

Music therapy can also be used to help children with emotional difficulties. For example, music therapy can help children who have been through traumatic experiences to express their feelings and work through their emotions. Music therapy can also help children with learning disabilities to improve their focus and concentration.

In addition, music therapy can help children with behavioral issues learn how to regulate their emotions and behavior. Music therapy’s benefits can translate into improved academic performance for children with special needs. Thus, music therapy is an essential tool that educators can use to help children with special needs succeed in school.

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