Why your mental health needs music
THE MORE WE UNDERSTAND ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH, THE MORE WE LEARN THAT THERE ARE MANY WAYS YOU CAN LOOK AFTER YOURS. ENTER MUSIC THERAPY – A FORM OF PSYCHOLOGY THAT COULD BE JUST WHAT YOU NEED
Music helps us make sense of our life and gives us emotional release,’ says music therapist Lise MacDonald. Here, we discuss why music therapy – a type of psychology – could be for you.
‘Anticipation and experience of peak emotions (chills and goosebumps) during music listening have been found to lead to the release of dopamine,’ says Kobie Swart of the University of Pretoria’s Department of Music. ‘Dopamine is associated with a pleasureandreward system usually activated by eating, sex and certain drugs. Music is an acoustic stimulus with the same effect.’
‘We all have musical skills and instincts,’ explains MacDonald. ‘Just think about the inherent musical qualities – tone, pitch, tempo and volume – of our vocal expressions such as laughing, sighing, crying and speech.’ That’s why music is often used as a form of clinical psychology. Music therapy is the application of various music techniques – from songwriting to improvisation – to manage mental health.
‘In a musictherapy session, the therapist will use music to provide a safe space for the nonverbal expression of emotion,’ says MacDonald. ‘This is similar to what happens verbally in a psychology session.’
How does it work?
‘As music therapists, we come across more and more people who prefer a creative type of therapy that allows them to bypass rational thinking. That’s where creative music therapy and Guided Imagery and Music (GIM, a powerful music and imagerycentred psychotherapy) are very effective,’ says Swart.
Music therapy can also have massive impact because of how music affects the brain. ‘Music is a “whole brain” phenomenon, which means your entire brain is active and engaged,’ says MacDonald. ‘Music is a system where vibrations are translated into sounds, which form patterns and structures (like songs). We have an emotional, mental and physical response to these structures, and we attach meaning to them.’
Through improvisation, songwriting, lyrical analysis, movement and listening to music, you communicate how you’re feeling, giving a music therapist insight into your emotional state. Music therapists are trained to listen to the musical, emotional and relational qualities of how a patient engages with music.
Is it effective?
Karen de Kock, a music therapist, says, ‘There is an innate responsiveness to music in all human beings. We all respond to rhythm, melody and harmony, regardless of physical or mental disability, injury or illness.’
The Cochrane Library did nine studies on the effects of music therapy on more than 400 people. The studies compared music therapy to verbal psychotherapy, and
‘We all have a song that we deeply connect with’
measured the differences between the two pillars of music therapy: active (where you sing or play music) and receptive (where you listen to music). The conclusions? Music therapy combined with verbal therapy is more effective than verbal therapy on its own. ‘Music therapy seems to reduce depressive symptoms and anxiety, and helps to improve functioning (maintaining involvement in your job, activities and relationships),’ the study said.
What’s your therapy type? LYRIC ANALYSIS
Verbal therapy is about you talking to a therapist, but lyric analysis approaches feelings that may be difficult to express through language. Instead, you’re encouraged to interpret lyrics according to your unique insight.
Music therapist Molly Warren says, ‘Themes from lyrics can apply to obstacles in your life. We all have a song that we deeply connect with and appreciate – and lyric analysis provides an opportunity to identify song lyrics that may correlate with your experience.’
CREATIVE MUSIC THERAPY (AKA THE NORDOFFROBBINS APPROACH)
‘Sessions contain musicmaking with instruments such as shakers and small drums,’ explains music therapist Karyn Stuart. ‘Sessions start with a hello song to help engage the client. At times we create and write songs to help express emotions; other times a wellknown song can be sung to alleviate anxiety. The use of action songs, movement, singing, dancing, drawing, art, writing, talking and improvisation is a possibility. A musical goodbye helps bring the session to a close.’
‘Taking ownership of lyrics allows patients to tell their own story,’ says Warren. ‘Anyone can create lyrics that reflect their experiences, and select instruments and sounds that reflect the emotion behind the lyrics. This can be validating and build selfworth.’
THE BONNY METHOD OF GIM
Helen Bonny developed this form of music therapy, which has been used for people with psychological and emotional difficulties. Bonny describes it as a ‘process where imagery is evoked during listening to music’. The key steps include:
Pre-talk You set your expectations of the session.
Induction Time to relax in preparation for the session.
Music journey and dialogue As the music plays, you describe the imagery it invokes while your therapist listens to you and guides you.
Mandala drawing Mandalas are a form of sacred geometry in Hinduism and Buddhism. Drawing mandalas is often used in healing and meditative techniques. After the music journey, you get to draw freely inside a circle on a piece of paper, and begin the soothing process of creating a mandala.
Post-talk You reflect on your drawing and the music journey while connecting the dots to your experiences IRL.
THE DALCROZE METHOD (AKA THE DALCROZE EURHYTHMICS)
This method incorporates music appreciation, ear training (connecting sounds you hear with notes, scales and chords) and improvisation, as well as using your body as the instrument by listening to the rhythm of a piece of music and expressing what you hear through physical movement. It’s also been used to help patients deal with HIV/Aids diagnoses, and those who’ve encountered trauma.
Find a therapist
You can access therapists and their practices online. A great place to start is the Australian Music Therapy Association website (Austmta. org.au), which lists certified music therapists.
DIY at home
‘Most of us can benefit from 10 to 20 minutes a day with music of our choosing, and do with it whatever we feel like doing,’ says Swart. ‘This can be meditating, relaxing or just being still with the music; dancing, drawing or writing to the music; allowing the music to give us energy, new ideas or motivation. ‘To promote relaxation, listen to music that you find soothing while you practise deep breathing,’ says Barbara Reuer, an expert in musiccentred wellness. ‘For pain management, look for music that focuses your mind on things other than your discomfort. And don’t judge your singing abilities or get frustrated if you make mistakes as you play your instrument. The idea is to just let go.’
LISTENING TO NOTHING BUT GOOD VIBES!