The Role of Music Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Jump to:

1. What Is the Goal of Music Therapy?
2. Does Music Really Make a Difference in Addiction Treatment?
3. Drumming in Addiction Treatment
4. Dispelling the Myths About Music Therapy
5. Music Therapy for Addiction Treatment in Practical Terms

The rhythmic cadence of a drum, the lilting strains of a familiar love song – the meaning of music is different for everyone. It can take us back to a simpler time in our childhood, or it can remind us of a lost love or a special friend. It can even make us angry, anxious or sad.  Why does music have such a profound impact on our psyche?  What is it about a few basic sounds molded together into a rhythm or harmony that makes us react so strongly?

music therapyThe answer may be more “physical” than you might think.  According to information released from the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University, there is a growing theory that any correlation between the physical and the conscious mind exists in the brainwaves.  Furthermore, the brainwaves show changes that correspond to the rhythm or beat in various types of music.  For instance, a strong beat can cause the brainwaves to mimic the beat.  Slower rhythms cause the brainwaves to slow down, encouraging meditation and relaxation.  Some beats can encourage those afflicted with attention deficit disorder to increase their ability to concentrate in a way very similar to addictive, prescription drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall.

What Is the Goal of Music Therapy?

The goal of any therapy is to get to the root of the issues that affect a person’s life.  These may be issues that existed prior to a person suffering from the disease of addiction, or they may be issues that have resulted because of unchecked drug abuse.  Music provides a medium through which the therapist and the recovering addict can communicate, sometimes non-verbally.

According to Temple University, music therapy addresses many aspects of a person’s needs on various levels, such as:
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Social
  • Spiritual

In some instances, the client may be asked to improvise music or to recreate music they have already heard.  In other cases, the therapist and the recovering addict will listen to music together, and then discuss how the music affects them in various situations.  Whether the music is a therapeutic tool or simply a means to open the lines of effective communication between the therapist and the client depends upon the needs of each recovering addict.

Ultimately, when the root of the problem is revealed, the individual can address the issues, come to terms with them, and release them as a controlling influence in his or her life.

music therapyDoes Music Really Make a Difference in Addiction Treatment?

Music therapy has been shown to increase the likelihood of active participation in group therapy in at least one study, published by the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology and School of Music.  In this study, the researchers involved a group of individuals, all suffering from addiction diseases, in a cognitive behavioral group therapy setting. When asked about music therapy and whether the participants enjoyed it, each and every participant said that they did enjoy it, either moderately well or exceptionally well.  The attendance rate for the seven weeks of sessions was 75 percent, and most participants said they would take part in music therapy again, if they were given the opportunity.

Generally speaking, therapy can be daunting.  Especially for those who may not have been through a drug or alcohol treatment program in the past, it can be overwhelming and frightening.  Music therapy serves as a way for individuals to become actively engaged in their own recovery.  According to the researchers, music can decrease the stress associated with taking part in a recovery program.

Drumming in Addiction Treatment

Drumming isn’t so much the creation of music as it is the creation of an attitude.  Drums can be used to communicate one’s feelings, to create a rise in energy, and to create a sense of community with other people.  For some shamanic drum instructors, according to a research study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, drumming can lead to positive effects that are much deeper than this.  For instance, one gentleman who teaches a drumming program for recovering addicts has said that drumming is a way that one can connect with a higher power.  In addition to this connection, or perhaps through it, an individual may be able to release some of the guilt they feel because of the damage addiction has done to their lives or to the lives of those they love.

Another benefit to drumming in groups, or circles, is the cooperation involved, according to another instructor involved in the study.

Other benefits that come from participation in music therapy in groups include:
  • Learning how to nurture others and accept nurturing in return
  • Learning respect for others and their roles
  • Participation in group efforts
  • Creating pleasurable stimuli in the brain without the use of drugs
  • Increased attention span
  • Enhancing verbal and non-verbal communication skills

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Dispelling the Myths About Music Therapy

When many of us think of music, we might think about our own lack of abilities in this particular art form.  Not everyone plays an instrument or has an innate talent for singing on key.  For some, the thought of music therapy might lead them to think that only musicians can benefit from such a thing. Actually, there is no requirement that a person who participates in music therapy be a skilled, or even a trained, musician or singer.  Music therapy isn’t about how well someone can sing or how melodically one can strum a guitar.  Instead, it’s about expressing one’s emotions in order to connect with one’s innermost feelings and thoughts.  A music therapist guides and helps someone suffering from the disease of addiction to address and express their emotions through the process of listening to or creating music.

Another myth about music therapy is that it isn’t a “real” therapy.  According to an article published by The Huffington Post, written by the president of the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy has been in practice, in one form or another, for thousands of years.  After both World Wars, musicians began to play to wounded veterans and the hospital staff members – nurses and doctors – noticed significant improvements in their patients’ health and states of mind.  Eventually, the University of Michigan founded the first music therapy degree program to give those interested in using music to help others recover from various illnesses, diseases and disorders the special training they would need to pursue these endeavors.  Today, it is a recognized specialty and used in many different areas of treatment, from addiction treatment to helping victims of large-scale trauma.

Music Therapy for Addiction Treatment in Practical Terms

When it comes right down to the crux of the matter, many prospective clients of music therapy simply want to know what to expect from a music therapy session.  The process involves more than simply plugging in an iPod and listening to your favorite song.  Initially, the therapist will assess your needs based upon your unique history.  After the assessment, he or she will develop a program tailored specifically for you, which may include group sessions with others in similar circumstances.  Throughout the therapy process, you will be encouraged to talk with your therapist about issues that you face in your daily life of recovery, as well as any aspects of your life that may have contributed to your addiction.

During your session, you may be encouraged to play music using a variety of instruments, or you may be encouraged to write your own songs.  You may be encouraged to express yourself through lyrics if it is easier for you to manifest a thought or idea this way, rather than simply speaking it aloud.

Music therapy is available in both the inpatient and intensive outpatient programs here at Alta Mira.  Our music therapist is dedicated to helping you achieve your greatest potential for recovery through the open discussion and use of music to that end.  If you or someone you love is interested in finding out more about music therapy and how we can help you fight the disease of addiction, please do not hesitate to contact us today.