Humans have cherished music for centuries. For some people, music acts as an escape from reality and can evoke deep feelings of joy. Others see music as a necessity, something that helps them understand difficult feelings and express themselves. Regardless of how music makes us feel, it is something that we are all affected by. As a result, music can be used as a therapeutic technique to help us process challenging or joyful experiences. This technique is referred to as music therapy.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) explains, “Music therapy is the process of using songs and instruments to help achieve therapeutic goals in a clinical setting.” The VA further explains that music therapy has been heavily used as an effective therapeutic technique by the U.S. military over the last 70 years. It has been proven effective in helping veterans and their families to process traumatic events and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The National Institute of Health (NIH) explains, “Music therapists are trained in how to use music to meet the mental, social, and physical needs of people with different health conditions.” Music often helps us make sense of the world. Sometimes the lyrics help give us language for feelings we didn’t know we had. Other times, listening to instrumental music can provide relief when we can’t use words to describe how we feel.
Music therapy allows patients to express themselves in creative ways, thereby unlocking and healing different parts of the brain. In Neuroimage, V. Menon and D.J. Levitin explain that different parts of the brain become active as soon as music is heard. These parts of the brain include:
Menon and Levitin also state that these parts of the brain are “involved in regulating autonomic and physiological responses to rewarding and emotional stimuli.” So, if you’ve ever felt significantly better after listening to a certain song or playing an instrument, it’s probably because your brain felt rewarded.
In Neuroimage, the researchers further explain that music releases chemicals in the brain similar to those that mirror a reward. It states, “The enhanced functional and effective connectivity between brain regions mediating reward, autonomic, and cognitive processing provides insight into understanding why listening to music is one of the most rewarding and pleasurable human experiences.”
Now that the basics of music therapy and how it affects the brain are understood, we can discuss how this therapeutic technique can help heal trauma. Unfortunately, trauma is something most people will experience in their lifetime. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as an event or circumstance that results in:
Though traumatic experiences can lead to psychological and physical distress, the good news is that healing is possible. Healing can begin once safety is established, which can culminate while receiving trauma-informed care from a licensed professional. SAMHSA explains, “Trauma-informed care acknowledges the need to understand a patient’s life experiences in order to deliver effective care.”
Clinicians can use music therapy to help their patients healthily process the trauma they’ve experienced. This can look a variety of ways and will differ according to each patient’s individual needs, as well as the clinician’s expertise. For example, a music therapist might be added to the patient’s care team, or the clinician might suggest the patient write a song about a certain event that has impacted their life. As previously stated, approaches to music therapy will vary based on the patient’s needs.
It’s been established that listening to or playing music can make you feel good, but what else can it do? Music therapy can be an effective technique for people of all ages and from all walks of life. One positive aspect of music is that it can transcend stereotypes, expectations, time, and trauma. This creates endless space for people to creatively process traumatic events they’ve been through. For example, some people who have a difficult time talking about their feelings may find solace in songwriting because it allows them to process their emotions without talking.
Music has also been known to help relieve symptoms of pain for patients with certain conditions. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) confirms that “[M]usic-based interventions may have beneficial effects on both pain intensity and emotional distress from pain and may lead to decreased use of pain-relieving medicines.” Similarly, NCCIH reports, “Music therapists can use certain parts of music, like the rhythm or melody, to help people regain abilities they’ve lost from a brain injury or developmental disability.”
NCCIH further explains that music can help improve adolescents’ focus, writing, and reading skills. In addition, it can aid in improving various conditions, such as:
While it’s been made clear that there can be immense power and healing through the arts, there are a few key things that should be taken into consideration. First, it is important to note that music therapy should only be practiced by trained professionals and should be approved by members of your care team. Finding a trauma-informed music therapist could be beneficial if you are recovering from trauma.
However, music therapy might need to be used in conjunction with other approaches. The VA confirms, “Music therapy is considered an alternative-management technique, in addition to psychotherapy, medication, and non-traditional therapies such as service animals.” In addition, the NCCIH also cautions, “Because music can be associated with strong memories or emotional reactions, some people may be distressed by exposure to specific pieces or types of music.”
Trauma evokes strong emotions, but so can music. Luckily, trauma doesn’t have to have the last say in your life. Here at Sage Recovery, we know how hard it is to take the first steps toward healing from your trauma. That’s where we can help. Every single staff member is extensively trained in providing trauma-informed care. From our clinicians to our chefs, you and your life experiences will always be treated with respect. When you’re ready to heal from the difficult things you’ve been through, we’re here to help. Our friendly and compassionate staff are ready to talk when you’re ready to heal. Reach out to us at (512) 306-1394 today.