5 Benefits You Don't Know About Music Therapy
‘Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!” – Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone)
Yes, we all know that music is magical.
It doesn’t make our problems disappear, but it surely makes us feel better.
In music therapy, we don’t tell our clients it’s magic.
I mean, music therapy is an evidence-based profession and there is plenty of research out there to prove how music affects the brain and helps clients achieve health goals.
Health and wellbeing goals addressed by music therapy can be briefly categorised into social, emotional, cognitive, communication and physical aspects. You can read all the benefits of music therapy here, which will give you everything you need to know. But today, we will talk about benefits that you might not have thought about before. Backed up by research, of course.
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Music Therapy and Pain Management 💊
Let’s be honest. The hospital environment can be depressing, whether you are a patient or a visitor. The dull walls, squeaky beds and the emotionless beeps of machines.. For patients who are going through a tough time, it is more important than ever to brighten things up by adding values to the environment and the healing journey. Music serves more than aesthetic purposes for patients.
As part of the allied health profession, it is common for music therapists to work in the hospitals or rehabilitation centres. They typically work in a multidisciplinary (professionals who work together on the same problem while each remains in his or her discipline) or interdisciplinary (professional specialisations being combined to approach a problem) manner to assist patients in achieving their health goals. For example, if a patient who had a stroke wants to walk independently, it will be a collaborative effort between the doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, occupational therapist and music therapist to help achieve the goal. Every professional contributes his or her part to make this happen.
But there is another benefit of music therapy often being overlooked especially in this setting.
Music therapy demonstrated effectiveness in decreasing anxiety and pain, supporting relaxation, reducing sedation medication during procedures, and improving patient satisfaction (Redding et al., 2016). Music therapy can be a powerful adjunct intervention during painful procedures, including labour pain and postcesarean surgery pain. Music helps patients forget about their pain and lift up their moods.
Music is often paired with relaxation techniques and/or patient teaching (Cole & LoBiondo-Wood, 2014). I had experience hosting guided meditation with my supervisor during my placement in an acute mental health unit. Coping skills are important for daily functioning. More education can be paired with music therapy regarding reporting and managing pain and changing attitudes towards treatments.
Music and Motivation 🏃🏻♀️
Have you ever experienced this? The strong beat ringing in the gym just pumped you to do one more rep or hold onto that plank for three more seconds.
Playing the right kind of music can be motivating in everyday use. Not just at the gym, but also when you want to focus, or wash the dishes.
Music is motivating. Music also releases dopamine and endorphins which makes us feel good. So next time when you feel lazy or unmotivated, just play some music!
Research also found that group music therapy could enhance the treatment motivation and alter negative emotions (Wu et al., 2019). Human beings are social animals, and we can all support each other with similar goals. The trip to the gym is more fun with friends. The mental health recovery journey is more enjoyable with like-minded people.
Music Therapy and Self-expression 💬
This might not come as a surprise, but how exactly does music and music therapy facilitate self-expression?
Typically in a music therapy session, active music making, songwriting and lyrics discussion are used as an outlet for clients to express themselves. The beauty of music is that it doesn’t always have to be verbal – we know that sometimes we can’t find the right words to describe how we’re feeling, but we can express ourselves through melodies, cadence, harmonies and rhythms. This is why music therapy is being considered as the best alternative therapy alone or added to standard care to support adults with mental illnesses, compared to psychotherapy, verbal relaxation or no treatment (Lee & Thyer, 2013).
Before we learnt languages, all we could do as babies were to make sounds to communicate what we want. Similarly in music, it isn’t all about the lyrics. Every musical element matters. You can feel what the singer is trying to convey through scatting. You can feel the emotions in an instrumental piece.
This is how music therapy facilitates self-expression. Your music therapist has all the resources to help you with your emotional goals.
See for yourself..
Music Therapy and Cognitive Functions 🧠
Let’s talk about the brain, and how music affects every part of it.
Cognitive functioning refers to our mental abilities, which includes learning, thinking, problem solving, attention, remembering and decision making. Put it simply, the brain takes in information and processes it in order to make decisions.
Music therapy can target cognitive goals, for example:
- Learning an instrument (learning)
- Writing a song (thinking)
- Singing and walking at the same time (divided attention)
- Changing between two rhythmic patterns in a song (alternating attention)
- Following instructions from a conductor (inhibition)
- Performing (memory, sustained attention)
Clients can then transfer all the skills in everyday lives to improve wellbeing and quality of life. This is particularly helpful for people who have brain injury, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Music therapy is not only practical, but also enjoyable and motivational (as mentioned above).
Self-organisation skill is another crucial element in clients’ recovery journey. Planning, identifying goals, prioritising and organising materials etc. are all part of the process. Life might not be the same after the accident, but everyone can cultivate the grit and resilience to live a fulfilled life on their own terms. Music therapy facilitates this skill by helping clients to come up with coping strategies, to learn organisation and self-regulation.
Music Therapy and Sense of Self 🪞
The last benefit is all about YOU.
How would you feel if I ask you to write a song now? What about just singing a song to me?
It IS daunting.
I have seen many patients reject the idea of creating or performing music. They were afraid of others’ opinions, or just the fact that they had never done that before. But after they have done that, they were amazed by their abilities and how it was in fact more simple than they imagined.
Music therapy improves clients’ confidence and self-esteem. Music therapists meet where the clients are at, and through the process of creating a musical product, a sense of achievement and satisfaction is generated. There is no right or wrong in music – just be yourself, and put your creative hat on!
I don’t know about you, but I was absolutely mind blown 🤯 when I was studying music therapy. Even as a music therapist now, I’m learning something new every day. It is surely my honour and privilege to be able to help others with my strengths!
Is there anything you want to know more about? Ask away! 👇🏻
Now you know the power of music...
Cole, L., & LoBiondo-Wood, G. (2014). Music as an adjuvant therapy in control of pain and symptoms in hospitalized adults: A systematic review. Pain Management Nursing, 15(1), 406-425. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmn.2012.08.010
Lee, J., & Thyer, B. (2013). Does music therapy improve mental health in adults? A review. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 23(5), 591-603. https://doi.org/10.1080/10911359.2013.766147
Redding, J., Plaugher, S., Cole, J., Crum, J., Ambrosino, C., & Hodge, J. et al. (2016). “Where’s the music?” Using music therapy for pain management. Federal Practitioner, 33(12), 46-49.
Wu, Q., Chen, T., Wang, Z., Chen, S., Zhang, J., & Bao, J. et al. (2019). Effectiveness of music therapy on improving treatment motivation and emotion in female patients with methamphetamine use disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Substance Abuse, 41(4), 493-500. https://doi.org/10.1080/08897077.2019.1675117