Down the hall, bells jingle, maracas rattle; the Music Therapy cart is packed with drums, a piano, and shakers. From the far end of the hall, heads turn to see me, the Music Therapist, guitar strapped on my back, pushing the cart along the behavioral health unit at the hospital, inviting everyone who crosses my path to join me in a musical journey of self-discovery and empowerment!
I encourage patients to share their experiences with music, and the consensus is always something to the effect of “music affects my mood, it energizes me and makes me feel better”. At this point, I prepare them to learn the many ways music can be a useful tool in their lives.
Music has been a key component in Mental Health and Wellness for centuries. Music Therapy in the United States began in Mental Health in state hospitals, aiding veterans of foreign wars through their healing. Nurses who could play musical instruments were encouraged to do so when staff and families would witness the immediate positive changes in patients battling Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Depression, Anxiety, and much more.
Music has many benefits in Mental Health. Most people can recognize that music can improve mood, can decrease anxiety, and provide a means for self-expression.
Here are 5 benefits of Music Therapy in Mental Health that are not as commonly recognized but that we have all experienced:
1. Support for peers and self: when a group of non-musicians are handed instruments and are encouraged to play, they need each other’s support in order to get out of their comfort zone and prepare to make mistakes! Playing music in a group provides people with opportunities to encourage peers and to be more patient and supportive of themselves.
2. Empowerment: from songwriting to instrumental improvisation, making music is a creative endeavor that gives the musician power and control. Living with mental illness can often feel like you have no control over how you feel and what your mind will let you do. When music is put in your hands, you decide how loud, how fast, when to start, when to stop, what instruments…the entire canvas of music is yours for manipulating. This is empowering!
3. Validation: there is always a song or piece of music that will let you know you are understood. As therapists, we go the extra step and give patients instruments and guide them through the process of making the music that tells their story. Where words fail, music speaks. Sometimes we need music to tell us we are understood, and music is always ready to do so.
4. Cognitive challenge: playing a musical instrument is a cognitive challenge all around. You work on your attention skills, you have to use long and short-term memory skills, make decisions, solve problems on the spot, anticipate changes and patterns, coordinate your body and mind, and express that which words cannot express.
5. Sense of belonging: when you play music with others, you are bound by sound. Playing music in a group connects you to your peers because you have to listen to one another in real time and react to one another to make music that is cohesive.
Music Therapists work with people of all walks of life, throughout the lifespan. Music Therapists work in hospitals in all units, in prisons, in schools, private clinics, outpatient rehabilitation, and basically anywhere where people need help learning and growing!
Music Therapy in Mental Health continues to provide patients with tools and strategies to positively affect their mental processes and improve their overall outlook on life. Patients in Mental Health who receive Music Therapy benefit from the profound effects music has on the mind and the body.
More importantly, Music Therapists help humanize patients with Mental illness, taking away the stigma that can become an impossible hurdle for many who need help.
If you or someone you know are in need of mental health care, please do not hesitate to:
CALL THE NAMI HELPLINE
M-F, 10 AM – 6 PM ET
OR TEXT “NAMI” TO 741741