You’ve Got the Beat: Using Music Therapy to Connect, Enliven, and Heal
Can you imagine a world where music didn’t exist? Not only would that be a desolate, empty place, but even envisioning it seems near impossible to do: even when we aren’t intentionally trying to hear it, we might catch radio waves off a nearby porch, or from the open window in a car; in the background at the grocery store. The beauty of music is that no matter where we are, or what we do, music will always be there–even when it seems like nothing else is.
Connecting with a specific song, or a style of music, or a particular artist is an incredibly special thing for the listener. You feel that sense of loneliness melt away with the understanding that someone else gets what you are going through. Not only can music evoke a deep emotional response, but it can also literally affect your body and brain for the better–which can ultimately enhance your treatment and recovery processes.
Your mind on music
You know the way you feel when you hear the right song at the exact moment you need to hear it? Like music can truly make you feel better, more at ease, and comfortable with whatever emotions you’re feeling? As you can imagine, you’re not alone.
In a recent study, 400 participants who were about to undergo a major surgery were randomly instructed to either listen to music or take anti-anxiety medication beforehand. Scientists measured not only the physical signs of anxiousness, but also the levels of cortisol–a main stress hormone. Surprisingly, the patients who chose music were notably more calm and had lower levels of cortisol pumping through their systems than those on anti-anxiety medication. Essentially, music served as a type of therapy to these patients who may have been experiencing high stress and anxiety prior to a medical procedure.[1. http://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/bib_mentalhealth.pdf]
While we all have different experiences with music based on our genes, personalities, preferences, and moods, there is also proof that the basic human response to music is one of excitement and joy, while activating the same regions of the brain in everyone–those regions related to movement, attention span, and memory. This means that while we have unique personal responses to different music, we are all universally connected by its power.
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Connections through music
When I was in graduate school, my brother was at the peak of his addiction to heroin. There were times I felt as though I was the one suffering the most, and found it so hard to reconcile the hurt I felt stemming from his battle. Feeling overwhelmed and often incredibly sad, I would use music in times where I felt alone, scared, and even angry. Singing karaoke weekly may sound like a silly thing to use as an outlet, or as a mode of therapy, but there was more than one occasion where I recognized an immediate difference in my mood and thoughts on my brother’s situation after performing, or even just listening to others sing something that I connected with.
After my brother was clean, we had a conversation about the things that kept him going through withdrawal, depression, and even extremely tough feelings like shame and guilt. I listened to a lot of music, he said. Metallica, lots of classic rock music. Metal. The Beatles. Sometimes it calmed me down, sometimes it pumped me up, sometimes it fueled a feeling I already had. But it was there.
Even despite the strain our relationship had faced, we were able to open up a conversation about the ways in which listening to our favorite albums, songs, and musicians got us through some of the most challenging times we’d ever faced, both together and separately. While bonding over the power of music didn’t instantaneously fix our brother-sister bond, it helped lay the foundation for a new chapter in it.
Unique music, unique you
It is a common misconception that music therapy simply means listening to music in order to make you feel better, or to quell unsettling emotions. Well, first–music therapy is much more than just listening to music. While it differs for the needs of the individual, it also can involve moving/dancing to music, the creation of music (like drumming circles), and even singing it. This means that no matter what your musical inclination is, you don’t have to feel scared or pressured to use music in a certain way when using it as a form of therapy; you just have to be open to receiving and reflecting on the emotions that may follow.
Second, and almost more importantly, music therapy may not always make you “feel better.” Remember: any type of therapy requires you to confront any difficult or negative emotions in order to come to peace with them. Similarly, music therapy requires more than just listening to the kind of music that makes you happy, but experiencing the music that allows you to come to a better understanding of yourself.
While anyone can simply turn on the radio, put headphones on, or blast a music program on a computer, Alta Mira understands how advantageous true music therapy can be in conjunction with other treatment options. We recognize all of the ways–both scientific and intangible–that music can positively influence your journey. Not only will it make you feel more comfortable in dealing with unpleasant emotions, but it will also give you a sense of connection to others who have benefitted from it. Think about it: when you are a child, you can neither speak nor understand language–but you can be scared by a haunting noise, soothed by a lullaby.
Though hundreds of thousands of people battle addiction every day, it may seem as though you are completely isolated. Music can change that, if you’re willing to listen to it.
Using music as a form of therapy can drastically improve the quality of your treatment and recovery. Alta Mira understands how music can resonate deeply with listeners, and how it can allow those in treatment or recovery to connect with their emotional cores. If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, please contact us today.