Music is a wonderful art form that has been enjoyed across the globe since the beginning of time. There are many ways in which music is used, whether it is to enjoy the benefits of dancing, bonding with others over a favorite song, learning a new skill by playing an instrument, and many other activities. All of these have their own unique qualities that have made music beloved by humans.
Music brings out our creativity, but not just for recreation. Over the years, professionals have discovered how to use music to treat people who are struggling with certain mental health issues, ailments that come all along with aging, or other struggles that people may experience in their lifetime. This is called music therapy, and it has been strategically used a number of ways to promote the health and well-being of people of all ages.
Music therapy is clinical and evidence-based. The way that it works is that qualified therapeutic clinicians develop individualized goals with a client to help them address their needs. These needs may include alleviating pain, enhancing their memory, managing stress, improving communication, and more. The goals can vary greatly, as the clients receiving music therapy can be very diverse.
This article will review the types of music therapy available to treat a variety of conditions, as well as what conditions are most benefited by music therapy. Additionally, this article includes resources for those interested in seeking more information about music therapy for themselves or a loved one.
Types of Music Therapy
There are multiple types of music therapy, each of which have their own benefits.
- Analytical Music Therapy is an approach to music that allows one to discover themselves and reach therapeutic change by improvising freely and verbally to analyze and interpret the music. The idea is that, by doing so, the client will discover their unconscious thoughts, which they can discuss with their treatment professional.
- Benenzon Music Therapy focuses on the unconscious mind. The goal is to create a “musical sound identity” of the individual who is receiving the therapy. Then, the therapist uses that identity to look for sounds that match with the internal psychological state of the client and help them heal using cues from those sounds.
- Cognitive Behavioral Music Therapy (CMBT) is a strategy that combines cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and music. CBT is an effective type of therapy that seeks to modify negative thoughts and behaviors and reinforce positive and productive ones. This strategy is more structured than others.
- Community Music Therapy is a format that is intended to make change on a big-picture, community level. It makes this change because it acknowledges the struggles that a community and the individuals in the community may be facing with their health and relationships. The goal of this treatment model is to eliminate feelings of isolation within societies.
- Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy is an improvisational form of music therapy where the client creates music with their therapist by playing a certain instrument while the therapist plays another. This encourages self expression. This form of music therapy is based on the idea that everyone can utilize a sensitivity to music for their own personal development and growth.
- The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music helps clients access and identify a wide range of emotions, memories, and sensations by listening to classical music. Goals may influence the music that the therapist selects for the treatment session.
- Vocal Psychotherapy is a form of music therapy that involves using singing, natural vocal sounds, one’s breathing, and vocal improvisation to help one’s internal growth and sense of connection with themselves.
Within each category of music therapy, there are different ways to practice, which may include
- Singing songs
- Dancing to music
- Listening to music
- Practicing relaxation techniques to music
- Playing music
- Writing music
- Creating art with music
- And more
Music Therapy for Seniors
Seniors can benefit from many kinds of music therapy. Seniors may experience a variety of health conditions or feelings of loneliness or isolation. However, receiving music therapy is a powerful tool to help them tap into positive feelings and restore their health. Music therapy can help seniors with:
- Improved cognitive skills: This is beneficial towards helping seniors maintain memories, which is helpful for also maintaining a positive mood, even when they can no longer communicate.
- Improved speech: Music therapy has been proven to help seniors with speaking clearly, making decisions, and answering questions. This can be a part of helping slow the decline of certain skills that often occurs when a patient develops Alzheimer’s or dementia.
- Reduced stress: Music therapy is effective for reducing stress for many populations, including seniors, and can help them adjust to changes to routines or other stressful daily events.
- Physical benefits: Certain music therapy involves dance, which is beneficial in the sense that it gives seniors physical exercise. Physical exercise, especially when it’s fun, provides endorphins and healthy blood flow.
- Improved social skills: Music therapy can decrease feelings of isolation, which can in turn decrease the chance of mental health issues like depression, as music therapy may encourage seniors to seek each other out due to increased confidence.
- The Music Therapy Center: Music Therapy & Older Adults Fact Sheet
- MultiCultural Caregiving — This resource is a list of ideas that seniors who may not be able to access a formal therapist can try for a little music therapy at home. Family members can take a peek at this list as well if they want to encourage their senior loved ones to try it out.
Music Therapy for Alzheimers and Dementia
Well there is no official cure for Alzheimer’s, music therapy has a number of benefits to help those with this disease. Music therapy can help improve and alzheimer’s patience focus and also improve their ability to communicate. If needed it may also lower their dependence on psychiatric medication with a doctor’s supervision. There are several stages to Alzheimer’s and music has benefits at each stage. When music therapy has been applied for Alzheimer’s patients, visible changes are often seen. When they may have appeared disinterested in their surroundings before, they perk up and dance or hum to the music.
Music therapy may even slow cognitive decline, especially in those who previously played an instrument, as they may remember parts of the knowledge they used to carry. Interestingly, in later stages of Alzheimer’s, playing music can also help patients improve their walking balance. Additionally, music therapy can help a patient’s memories, because it can be easier to remember certain melodies over past events or a person’s name.
Sometimes, music can be a more effective tool than medication or physical therapy. In fact, music is so powerful, that a Finnish study found that listening to music daily helped recovering stroke survivors improve in the areas of attention, mood, and memory. They were also less likely to be confused and depressed. Strokes have some connections to dementia, so there are likely benefits to both.
All of these benefits are because music affects the brain in many different areas at once. It increases mood, and also encourages movement, which is good for the body. Music is also good for communication, which may be difficult for those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
- Music and Memory is a non-profit dedicated to helping individuals with cognitive and physical conditions through the use of music. They provide education and work to create a network of “Music and Memory certified organizations” to make personalized music therapy standard across the world of healthcare.
- Songs and Smiles strives to work with families who have a loved one experiencing Alzheimer’s. Their goal is to “teach people how to creatively connect” with an individual with Alzheimer’s, which includes music therapy.
Music Therapy for Autism
Autistic people of all ages can benefit from music therapy. Autism spectrum disorder can cause issues with communicating. ASD can also cause issues with transitions of all types. Autistic people may not be able to verbalize how they are feeling, which may cause difficulty and expressing what they need and they may not know how to ask for it. Music therapy is beneficial in the way of improving communication for autistic people in general. Additionally, music therapy can also improve their social skills. While autistic people have their own way of seeing the world and communicating that works for them, the world is unfortunately built in a way that is sometimes overwhelming or difficult to navigate for people with ASD, as others around them might not understand them. Music therapy is a way to communicate nonverbally.
Autism presents in many different ways, and can be very complex. Therefore, there isn’t just one right way to go about music therapy treatment for people with autism. The benefit of music therapy, however, is that it is intended to be very individualized to each person receiving the treatment. Music therapy can help build skills of focus, sharing, personal expression, physical coordination, and more. Autistic adults in particular may benefit from the stress management and personal expression aspects of music therapy.
- Pathfinders for Autism is a resource that provides information on different types of therapies for autistic children, including music therapy, and compiles additional information to go with it. This can be helpful for parents looking into music therapy for their autistic child.
- MusicTherapy.org is a website that has information on music therapy for all populations and has a finder for music therapists in all areas of the United States.
Music Therapy for Depression
Music therapy can be helpful for improving symptoms of depression when used alongside psychotherapy and prescription medication. Studies show that patients report being less depressed with the inclusion of music therapy alongside their normal treatment. While research is still examining the types of music therapies that work best for those with depression, it’s clear that music therapy may be a treatment that may be included more and more in the future. This is because brain scans have demonstrated that music therapy activates the part of the brain that regulates emotional states. Additionally music therapy can decrease tension in the body as well as decrease feelings of anxiety. Music therapy also has the benefits of increasing motivation, self-esteem and even personal relationships. All of these factors can also play a part in how one feels about themselves, which may help one’s depression.
- Positive Psychology — This page discusses music therapy activities and tools that are accessible to many people as well as the benefits that these tools can have. Accessibility is important in therapy as many people can’t afford a formal therapist due to a number of factors.
- Good Therapy — This page goes over the benefits of music therapy and how it can help various mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, hypertension, schizophrenia, substance abuse, and more. It can be a good resource to review if music therapy is right for you, as it includes the training that music therapists undergo and what happens in a music therapy session