Music Psychology and Mental Health

Music Psychology Center Philippines – Music can play a crucial role to support people at all stages of life: from helping new-born babies develop healthy bonds with their parents to offering vital, sensitive, and compassionate palliative care at the end of life. Singing to new-borns, a widespread activity practiced worldwide, has been demonstrated to have valuable benefits such as improving mother-infant interaction and reducing infant distress. In the same way, music has been reported as an aid in the reduction of anxiety and agitation in older adults with senile dementia.

The clinical and evidence-informed use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship is defined as Music therapy. Established as a profession after World War II, Music therapy has become an important part of internationally therapeutic and healthcare settings. Even long before that, Pythagoras (c.570 – c.495 BC), the Ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician, prescribed various musical scales and modes to cure an array of physical and psychological conditions. Music therapy is part of the Creative Arts Therapies in which arts-based activities are used in a therapeutic environment, with the support of a trained professional. Creative Arts Therapies are particularly effective for people who face barriers in expressing themselves with spoken languages, such as individuals with communication deficits or people with mental health difficulties who find it difficult to talk about their experiences and feelings in words. These therapies provide a safe and supportive environment to enable and encourage the patients to express themselves in whatever way possible, encouraging self-expression and development supported by the therapeutic relationship. Music therapy interventions involve a therapeutic process developed between the patient (or client) and therapist through the use of personally tailored music experiences.

This distinguishes Music therapy from other music interventions, offered mainly by medical or healthcare professionals. In fact, music can be utilized not only through a setting lead by a professional Music therapist, but also with individuals and groups in a variety of settings. A wide range of musical styles and instruments can be used, including the voice, enabling people to create their unique musical language to explore and connect with the world and express themselves. Bringing out emotions and thoughts through methods of verbal and nonverbal expression and exploration – such as dance and body movement, music, art, and expressive writing may deactivate the avoidance mechanism and enable the elaboration of emotions and distress. Music has evolved from emotional communication, and the musical components of speech provide honest communication about emotions. Because musical participation and response do not depend solely on the ability to speak, music is particularly effective for people who have difficulty communicating verbally. Hence, working with music can be life-changing for people affected by disability, injury, or mental disorders.

The potential of music to affect mood, cognition, and behavior has been demonstrated in several studies. On a negative side, some studies have shown that men who were exposed to music with misogynistic lyrics displayed higher levels of aggressive behavior than did those who were exposed to neutral music, especially when the aggressive behavior was directed at a female target person. Men also recalled more negative attributes of women after exposure to misogynistic music. And when the music contained men-hating lyrics, women recalled more negative than positive attributes about men. Furthermore, playing loud music incessantly to prisoners has been reported as a form of “music torture” designed to cause extreme discomfort. In fact, it’s been a practice against which the legal charity Reprieve set up its “zero-dB” campaign (zero, 2021) the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 2008.

There is a vast body of evidence demonstrating that Music therapy is beneficial both physically and mentally. Recently the attention has also focused on whether general music activities, not led by therapists, can enhance the mental health and wellbeing of service users. Studies on patients diagnosed with mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia have shown a visible improvement in their mental health after general music and Music therapy interventions. Moreover, studies have demonstrated other benefits of music and Music therapy, including improved heart rate, motor skills, stimulation of the brain and enhancement of the immune system.

Although music might have initially evolved as a pure art expression with entertainment scopes, it is now clear that music can affect physiological processes, improving physical and mental wellbeing. Consequently, it can have critical adaptive functions.

Source: Rebecchini, L. (2022)

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