Music the Healer

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Whether you’re listening to it or creating it, music can reduce stress and anxiety, distract you from negative feelings and emotions, and even relieve symptoms of health or mental health conditions. Music has been used to reduce physical and emotional pain and increase quality of life in medical and psychiatric hospitals, drug and alcohol programs, assisted living facilities, and cancer centers. These same music practices can be worked into your daily life, especially with the guidance of a counselor, coach, or licensed music therapist who can assess your needs and use specialized and research-based techniques to help guide you towards reaching your therapeutic goals.

Alternative and complementary treatments such as creative art, meditation, and yoga have been proposed to bridge this gap. But music, because of its ubiquity in our society as well as its ease of transmission, has perhaps the greatest potential among alternative therapies to reach people who do not otherwise have access to care.

Does music heal emotional suffering? Research says yes.

We now know through controlled treatment outcome studies that listening to and playing music is a potent treatment for mental health issues. Research demonstrates that adding music therapy to treatment improves symptoms and social functioning among schizophrenics.

Further, music therapy has demonstrated efficacy as an independent treatment for reducing depression, anxiety and chronic pain.

There are several mechanisms by which music can have this effect. First of all, music has positive physical effects. It can produce direct biological changes, such as reducing heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.

Also, studies suggest that exposure to pro-social lyrics increases positive thought, empathy, and helping behavior. The message in a lyric such as “We shall overcome” may be able to reach more people than all of the psychotherapists in the world combined.

Finally, music is a connecting experience. Pete Seeger was well known for his use of the sing-along, and he made his goal of building communities explicit, saying, “The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place.” Research clearly demonstrates that improved social connection and support can improve mental health outcomes. Thus, any music that helps connect people can have a profound impact on an individual’s mental health. Pete Seeger is one of the spiritual godfathers of using music to improve mental health and well-being. Mental health professionals must capitalize on the path he blazed, to continue the important work of improving public health and well-being.

Countless other musicians with a message, such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Rage Against the Machine, have taken to heart Seeger’s statement, “Participation. That’s what’s going to save the human race.” His influence can also be seen in organizations such as Musicorps, which heals disabled vets through teaching music, and Rock Against Dystrophy, which organizes concerts to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” ~Plato

When we listen to music we love, that certain melody resonates deep in our soul and can provide a space in time where all problems disappear. Music, the right music to our liking, has a way of touching our souls in a deep and subtle way. And the people who breathe life into their instruments and lyrics lift our spirits. Music can bring us back to life from a depressed state. We can be resuscitated by a single inspirational melody.

SOURCE: Friedman, M. Ph.D. (2014)
Facebook Page: Music Psychology Research (MPR) 2010 / Psychological Assessment and Research Evaluation (PARE) 2014