The Healing Harmony: Exploring the Soothing Power of Music Therapy

Imagine sitting in a room filled with song, rhythm, and melody, each striking a chord within you that seems to thrum with unspoken words you haven’t been able to speak. That is the power that music therapy has to offer. 

Music has long since been known to evoke an array of emotions within its listeners. However, beyond just simple entertainment, music can connect with the deepest recesses of the human mind. It’s in this middle ground between sound and psyche that music therapy is able to strike a chord and come out as a powerful yet soothing practice that aims to improve the quality of life of people of all ages. 

Woman listening to music for music therapy.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is a specialized branch within the field of psychotherapy. It stands as a unique and powerful approach to addressing a wide array of individual needs ranging from anywhere within physical, emotional, cognitive, and social aspects. Every music therapy session is led by trained healthcare professionals called music therapists who tailor each session to the group or individual they are working with in order to promote positive changes or breakthroughs in the well-being of their clients. 

At its essence, music therapy works by using music and its elements like sound, rhythm, and harmony to achieve specific goals. These goals can be anything from reducing stress to lessening the weight of anxiety or depression to managing pain to regulating mood. The results of music therapy sessions largely depend on the conditions or symptoms you’re working to treat. Before beginning any session, your music therapist will speak with you and delve into your unique needs, musical preferences, and experiences in order to craft a music therapy plan catered to your unique needs, with ongoing assessments of progress and collaboration with other healthcare providers when necessary.

The good thing about music therapy is that you don’t need any musical skills for it to be effective. This is one of the reasons why music therapy is great for any age, including small children. Music channels the natural sense of rhythm that every human possesses. During a session, you’ll either play music, create rhythms with your therapist, or listen to or discuss the music your therapist provides. However, no matter which type of musical intervention is used, because music is processed along a different neural pathway than verbal speech, you can expect to find a new, unique, and thrilling way of expressing yourself and communicating. 

Young boy relaxing to music in music therapy session.

How Does Music Therapy Help?

The American Music Therapy Association notes that modern music therapy practices began with community musicians visiting hospitals during World War I and II to play for veterans suffering from physical, mental, and emotional traumas of war. Patients’ responses to the music sparked such notable physical and emotional responses that hospitals began to regularly hire musicians to come and play for the patients inside. 

Now, music therapy is used to help treat a wide range of conditions in addition to other forms of therapy, such as evidence-based practices, including Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and more. 

Here are a few examples of the different ways music therapy is used: 

1. Emotional Expression and Regulation:

Music can help tap into and express emotions that might be challenging for patients to verbalize. In therapy sessions, individuals are encouraged to create or listen to music that resonates with their emotional experiences. This process aids in emotional expression and regulation, providing a safe outlet for releasing pent-up feelings.

2. Cognitive Enhancement:

The intricate nature of music engages various cognitive functions, including memory, attention, and executive functions. For individuals dealing with cognitive impairments or neurodevelopmental disorders, music therapy can serve as a powerful tool for cognitive enhancement and rehabilitation.

3. Stress Reduction:

Music has a unique ability to shift the autonomic nervous system, leading to relaxation and stress reduction. In therapy sessions, calming melodies and rhythms are often used to induce relaxation, promoting an open environment for exploration and healing.

4. Social Connection:

Music therapy fosters social interaction and connection, particularly in group settings. Collaborative musical activities encourage communication, cooperation, and the development of social skills, making it a valuable intervention for individuals facing challenges in forming and maintaining relationships.

Girl playing piano during music therapy session.

How is Music Therapy Used During Sessions?

When starting music therapy, your music therapist will always begin with an initial assessment. This is both to gain an understanding of you and your unique needs and to get a feel for your musical interests and abilities. Regardless of musical background, the focus isn’t on technical skills but on using music as a tool for reflection and communication, allowing therapists to help clients explore psychological aspects of their inner world. 

Once sessions begin in full, there are a few different ways that music can help you tune into your inner thoughts and emotions. Here are the three most common examples of how music therapy is used during sessions.

1. Active Music Making:

Clients actively create music, whether playing instruments, singing, composing, or even simply humming a tune. This hands-on approach allows self-expression and empowerment throughout a patient’s therapeutic journey.

2. Guided Listening:

Therapists curate playlists or guide patients in listening to specific pieces of music designed to evoke emotions and memories or facilitate relaxation or reflection. Discussing these experiences can provide valuable insights into an individual’s emotional landscape.

3. Songwriting

Writing and composing music can be a cathartic process. Music therapists often encourage their clients to express their thoughts and feelings through songwriting, creating a personalized narrative that reflects their unique experiences.

Music therapy session with guitar playing.

With various uses aimed towards improving mental health and well-being, music therapy can become a key factor in allowing clients the cathartic release of bottled-up emotions or finding calm in the midst of stress. Through music therapy, individuals can express their feelings in different ways, whether by playing instruments, singing, or creating their own tunes. This creative process can be a game-changer, helping people better understand themselves and cope with life’s ups and downs. 

At Brain Insights, Dr. Mickell Lethco fuses her background in music and art by incorporating music into psychotherapy sessions to work alongside a patient’s primary treatment plan. By blending the power of music with traditional, evidence-based therapeutic approaches, she strives to create a personalized and holistic healing experience, tapping into the unique potential of each individual’s emotional and mental well-being. Contact us today for a free 15-minute consultation to help determine the best course of action to improve your mental health and to see if music therapy is right for you.