Is Music Always Good For You? Promoting Healthy Use of Music
Let’s address the elephant in the room: is music always good for us?
We often hear people say “music is my life”, “I can’t live without music” etc.
While we sometimes do rely on music in our everyday lives , we have to be careful about how we use it.
Everything can be a double-edged sword: money, phone, knife, even music.
In this article, let’s look into how we might accidentally let music bring us to dark places, how we might have ruminated too much, and how we can raise awareness regarding ways to use music – again, based on research and my experience as a music therapist.
Is Music Always Good For Us? 🤔
We all know the benefits of playing or listening to music. I even have an article here talking about the benefits of music therapy (that you might not have thought about).
However, we shall also look at things objectively.
Some disadvantages of music I found on Google include:
- Triggers for bad memories
- Hearing loss (well…)
And some drawbacks of music therapy include:
- Memory triggering
I have met clients who relied a bit too much on music to ruminate. While they might try to regulate their moods and relieve negative feelings, they ended up being stuck in certain memories. Eventually some found it hard to stay present and engage in real life activities.
To determine whether music is always good for us, we need to look into our relationship with music.
Relationship Between Young People and Their Music 🎶
We all engage with music differently. One article pointed out that vulnerable young people might have patterns of using music that are different from their healthy peers (2). While music can be an effective coping strategy, young people’s judgments may be clouded during depression or anxiety (I certainly have been there when I was a teenager).
For people who struggle with mental illness, it is important to better understand their healthy identities in general before assuming they all engage with music in a healthy manner.
Here at Strike A Chord Music Therapy, I employ a resource-oriented music therapy approach. That means I view people in context: their culture, environment (including people around them) and experience that make them who they are. In particular, music represents our culture and background. To a certain extent, music makes our identity.
Young people’s relationship with music shapes their music identity. Music may influence their personal qualities, lifestyle and values (2). On the other hand, music also shapes their social roles and social circles. Some young people listen to certain genres to fit in; some engage in active musical participation either as a musician or a fan. It is important to look into a person’s context before determining their health goals and how we use music to help achieve those goals.
On a side note, findings have suggested that there is no particular genre that is “problematic”, but rather, that particular pieces of music, or ways of engaging with music, can become associated with habitual patterns of behavior that reflect mental health problems (1).
How to Assess Whether We Are Using Music in a Healthy Manner? 🔨
Not trying to sound clinical here, but there is this Healthy-Unhealthy Music Scale for your reference if you are curious about your behaviours and engagement with music.
With that being said, the authors mentioned it is better to complete the scale with a music therapist so that:
- You get recommendations and concrete guides for your next step
- You don’t feel like you’re a subject being examined
- You get a more accurate view of music’s role in your life
New to music therapy?
How to be More Mindful and Aware When We Use Music?😳
Now that we know there are always two sides of the coin, we can start bringing in more awareness when it comes to using music.
As I always emphasise here, intention matters.
The tip here is to focus on your desired emotional state:
- What do you want to get out of after listening to music?
- How do you want to feel afterwards?
- Does that emotion serve your health goal?
Playlist curation is one of the activities I engage with my clients during music therapy sessions. Intention is the focus. Keeping the ultimate health goal in mind, we design playlists collaboratively in a mindful manner to regulate clients’ moods. Such playlists are specifically designed to meet clients’ needs, not just a collection of songs clients usually listen to.
Read more: How To Improve Your Life With Playlists
Benefits of Working with a Music Therapist👩🏻💻
Music therapists can help establish healthy use of music for young people’s recovery through providing insights and different strategies for music engagement in the future. For example, we can look into what and why certain music triggers you, how to set boundaries, and when you should stop reminiscencing. Music therapists give you extra support and accountability that you otherwise will not receive by managing mental health and music consumption behaviours on your own.
Anyone can benefit from therapy regardless of self-determined or therapist-determined health goals. Research did suggest that client engagement and commitment to therapy is one of the success determining factors.
If you are deciding whether to start attending therapy sessions or not, ask yourself: what is my ultimate “why” for participating? What are the benefits that I can get out of sessions which will help me live a better life?
There is no self-development without self-awareness.
If you are interested in reading more on this topic, check out this TED Talk by Dr. Katrina McFerran on healthy use of music among young people.
Returning from the dark side of music | Katrina McFerran | TEDxStKilda – YouTube
(1) Hense, C., Silverman, M. and McFerran, K., 2018. Using the Healthy-Unhealthy Uses of Music Scale as a Single-Session Music Therapy Intervention on an Acute Youth Mental Health Inpatient Unit. Music Therapy Perspectives,.
(2) Hense, C., McFerran, K. S., & McGorry, P. (2014). Constructing a grounded theory of young people’s recovery of musical identity in mental illness. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(5), 594–603. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2014.10.010