Music has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression and the power of music to heal has been
known for thousands of years . It is also fun! Because listening to and being active within a musical context activates the brain it is also a very effective medium for therapy.
For people who hear voices music based engagement can keep the voices quiet. For those with
depression it can lift mood and for people who are using street drugs it is a non verbal therapy that allows the emotional issues around addiction can be addressed directly.
The brain is evolved to respond to music because our pre human ancestors communicated emotional content: fear, opportunity and readiness to mate for example. The emotional content of communication then and now, is expressed in musical terms - loud or quite, high or low the duration, repetition of the cry or call. That is why musical communication is meaningful and
can reach us in what ever mood we are in. Musical communication existed long before speech as we understand it today and text such as this article! When you are musically connected , in music therapy terms, you are no longer alone. Sadness is less sad when shared. And feeling less sad can most easily become the gateway to feeling more cheerful and positive. That is why music and music therapy can be beneficial in improving and maintaining mental health.
One music therapy group that we ran in the community took place at drop in centre for people with mental health difficulties. Led by two therapists the sessions were inclusive and the group open to all adults with mental health issues. In practical terms the group would be welcome anyone including people with a dementia, learning difficulties as well as people with ongoing chronic mental health conditions This was a successful project all participants gained something. Successful because it was a popular session and the feedback from participants gave evidence that they appreciated it. In terms of measuring improved mood via a mood scale, the gains were also significant. The peer support which the group offered each other was evident to us in the sessions and clear in the positive feedback.
The music therapy group sessions were always lively with improvised music and the singing of
known songs. The content was always led and directed by the participants.
We would bring lots of musical instruments. Some group members had musical skills most did not. Drums, guitar, harp, keyboard, small percussion and sounds from the computer. Our making of sounds would develop into creatively meaningful music, leaving a sense of achievement at the end of the sessions.
Often the main problem, is in building and sustaining healthy relationships. Music is an art beyond words. Shared music making is a space to practice exchanging ideas and developing rapport with others. The peer support which the group offered each other was evident in the sessions and in the positive feedback as well. The group members regularly reported
improved mood as measured on a mood scale, and attendance of the sessions was good.
Carter had a learning difficulty and was a long term drug user. Much of the time he appeared to be in world of his own. He attended the group and seemed at first content to play in his own way in parallel with others. He would play guitar in his own tempo and although he might look up and smile he was unaware of others musical expression in direct relationship to his own. He liked to talk with the therapists before and after the session. In the active music making he didn't connect deeply with us or his peers.
Until one day he brought in an mp3 player and a small speaker and announced he had been
recording himself at home and then he played back his music to the group. We then began to jam along to his recording and this time he joined in intentionally playing along with his recording, clearly very aware of the rest of group making music with him. What made this all the more significant was that we were openly recording that session, and so later we listened to a recording of us playing music to a recording!
Carter continued to attended the group and was often was still in his own world. However, increasingly frequently he began to dialogue with others in the music, pausing his playing to hear his rift reflected in the improvisation and then understanding consciously the value of his input to the group. When asked what the group meant to him at the project evaluation Carter responded - Kindness and friendship.
Instrumental play is one of the easiest and most direct ways of engaging and exploring in music
therapy. Singing and dancing particularly with others are also healthy and naturally beneficial
activities. Music is one of the best legal highs - Enjoy!
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