Tag Archive for: music for depression

The Impact of Music Therapy On Mental Health

When I worked at a psychiatric hospital, I would wheel my cart full of instruments and musical gadgets down the hallway every morning. Patients lingering in the hall would smile and tap on a drum as I passed by. Some would ask me if I had their favorite band on my iPad. Some would peek their heads out of their rooms, and exclaim, “Molly’s here! It’s time for music therapy group!” Oftentimes, I would hear about patients who were asleep in their rooms when I arrived, but their friends would gently wake them with a reassurance: “You don’t want to miss this.”

Music to My Ears

I’ve been lucky to serve many children and adults in various mental health settings as a music therapist. I’ve heard stories of resilience, strength and adversity. I’ve worked with individuals who have experienced trauma, depression, grief, addiction and more. These individuals have not come to me in their finest hour, but despite feeling lost or broken, music provided them with the opportunity for expression and for experiencing safety, peace and comfort.

Research shows the benefits of music therapy for various mental health conditions, including depressiontrauma, and schizophrenia(to name a few).  Music acts as a medium for processing emotions, trauma, and grief—but music can also be utilized as a regulating or calming agent for anxiety or for dysregulation.

There are four major interventions involved with music therapy:

  1. Lyric Analysis

While talk therapy allows a person to speak about topics that may be difficult to discuss, lyric analysis introduces a novel and less-threatening approach to process emotions, thoughts and experiences. A person receiving music therapy is encouraged to offer insight, alternative lyrics and tangible tools or themes from lyrics that can apply to obstacles in their life and their treatment. We all have a song that we deeply connect to and appreciate—lyric analysis provides an opportunity for an individual to identify song lyrics that may correlate with their experience.

  1. Improvisation Music Playing

Playing instruments can encourage emotional expression, socialization and exploration of various therapeutic themes (i.e. conflict, communication, grief, etc.).  For example, a group can create a “storm” by playing drums, rain sticks, thunder tubes and other percussive instruments. The group can note areas of escalation and de-escalation in the improvisation, and the group can correlate the “highs and lows” of the storm to particular feelings they may have.  This creates an opportunity for the group to discuss their feelings further.

  1. Active Music Listening

Music can be utilized to regulate mood. Because of its rhythmic and repetitive aspects, music engages the neocortex of our brain, which calms us and reduces impulsivity. We often utilize music to match or alter our mood. While there are benefits to matching music to our mood, it can potentially keep us stuck in a depressive, angry or anxious state. To alter mood states, a music therapist can play music to match the current mood of the person and then slowly shift to a more positive or calm state.

  1. Songwriting

Songwriting provides opportunities for expression in a positive and rewarding way. Anyone can create lyrics that reflect their own thoughts and experiences, and select instruments and sounds that best reflect the emotion behind the lyrics. This process can be very validating, and can aid in building self-worth. This intervention can also instill a sense of pride, as someone listens to their own creation.

On Another Note

When I worked at a residential treatment center, I was notified that a child refused to continue meeting with his usual therapist. Even though he was initially hesitant to meet with me, he soon became excited for our music therapy sessions.

In our first session, we decided to look at the lyrics of “Carry On” by FUN. I asked him to explain what it means to be a “shining star,” which is mentioned several times in the song.  I was expecting this 8-year-old to tell me something simple, like “it means you’re special.” But he surprised me when he stated, matter-of-factly: “It means that you are something others notice. It means you are something to look up to, and you are something that helps others navigate.”

And just like that: This lyric offered the opportunity to discuss self-worth, resilience, and strength. Music provided him with the structure and opportunity to process in an engaging way. Soon, his therapist began attending our sessions to help build a healthier therapeutic relationship. His family and teachers reported improved emotion regulation and social interaction skills. Music therapy had provided countless opportunities for building healthy relationships, just as it has for thousands of others.

By Molly Warren, MM, LPMT, MT-BC


Mental Health Starts With Listening

When was the last time you considered how sound might impact your health?  Most of us only think about sound pollution when there’s a jackhammer outside our bedroom window, but it turns out what you listen to all day can affect your wellness. And since music is the most complex sound system you encounter in daily life, it may be worth pausing to consider what the next song on your playlist may do to your health.

My research team at Genote discovered just how true this was when we were running some tests with premature infants in a neonatal intensive care unit. The sounds premature babies hear can cause stress or even cause pain because their ears are very sensitive. We wanted to see if we could use music to help them cope with stress, anxiety and development issues that come from living out of the womb too early.

Music is made up of hundreds of different components, such as melody, harmony and rhythm. Songs combine these elements to produce certain styles and emotions. But these musical elements also trigger reactions from the mind and body. After studying these interactions for more than twenty years, our team learned how to produce music that targets specific health goals.

We used a program of our specially prepared music to help the babies sleep better and to relax when they showed signs of discomfort—which worked almost immediately. In some cases, this improvement had significant health improvements for the babies, such as restoring oxygen levels in the blood.

After seeing how music could improve health in premature infants, we wanted to know if we could improve the lives of other groups of people. So, we partnered with a special education school that worked with young, blind students. We were hoping to help them improve focus, sleep, relationships and decrease anxiety through music.

By applying a special music-listening program at home and school, we saw improvement in nearly all the areas we were studying, including the students’ ability to focus, relax and sleep deeply and consistently. One student’s mother told us that the music made her son more playful and she could tell he slept more deeply and woke up in a happy mood, setting the tone for a positive day for learning.

Using Sound To Promote Mental Health

The biggest takeaway from these studies is the impact our sound environment has on our emotional wellbeing. Unfortunately, negative sound pollution can also have a significant detrimental impact on mental health, such as increasing stress, anxiety and even blood pressure. Many studies also link certain types of music to negative emotional conditions like depression.

The sounds around you right now are influencing the state of your mental health. If you’re interested in seeing how your sound environment is affecting you, experiment with the following:

    1. Keep a sound journal. At the end of each day, write down all the sounds you remember hearing. See if you can identify how any given sound affected you and make a note. Make a note describing how you felt that day.
    1. Experiment with music. In your sound journal, pay close attention to what music you listen to and the effect of any given song or genre.
    1. Make adjustments. Try to add more of the sounds that bring a positive change to your day and avoid the sounds that cause stress or anxiety.
  1. Re-evaluate. After a week, evaluate how your experiment went and assess how your mood changed because of the changes you implemented.

My dream is for people everywhere to become more aware of how sound, and especially music, can be a measurable, impactful tool for healthy living. By better harnessing the power of music to improve mental health and stability, we have a powerful tool at our disposal that we can use before considering more invasive means of correction. A careful approach to music can change the game for mental health. It just starts with listening.

By Kenny Baldwin