Music and our Mental Health : When to See a Music Therapist
By Jennifer Buchanan
As we blast a beloved rock classic at a party , press play on an energizing pop anthem in the car , or soothe our broken hearts to the strains of a sad ballad there is no denying the power of music to foster change .
What you may not know is that the health benefits of music have been studied and practiced in a profession dating back to the mid-last century . Music therapists in Canada have been working with many communities across the country for decades . From helping patients recover from brain injuries to comforting elders in long-term care , music therapy ’ s health and wellness effects have been witnessed extensively , and time and time again , science has shown it works .
What is music therapy ? Music therapy has been shared through many mediums of pop culture including dialogue on television shows , being mentioned during music award programs , and in national bestselling books , however , music therapy as a healthcare profession is still misunderstood .
A Certified Music Therapist ( MTA ) has been trained to ensure music is being used effectively and within the largest body of knowledge — serving a wide range of citizens , from infants to elders . Under the umbrella of counselling therapists , music therapists work in diverse settings from the most specialized of medical settings — ICU , neurorehabilitation , and end-of-life care to wellness settings including employee assistance programs .
While every music therapy session is different , and there is no single prescription , the following goals regardless of age , are often requested : decrease stress and / or anxiety ; reclaim focus and productivity ; motivate movements and mobility ; ignite the memory ; increase comfort in a social environment ; improve capacity for new learning and attention ; boost confidence and feelings of self-worth ; and in general , “ feel better .”
In recent times the increase of being asked to target emotional well-being , mood regulation , and overall mental health , has been on the rise . Music therapy is perfectly suited to this domain due to music ’ s very nature of bypassing the verbal and going straight to the heart of the matter — feelings .
Healing through the tough times Music therapists have repeatedly witnessed individuals who have faced adversity using every ounce of their strength to recover — be it physically , cognitively , socially , or emotionally . Music , when used with skill and intention , is an effective and efficient resource that can dissolve the sense of stress and frustration . As stress declines , individuals can remember what they need to do , tackle a new project with more flexible thinking , or generally feel a level of control they didn ’ t have just minutes before when they were triggered . They are able to make their next , best decision with increased clarity and heart .
The ultimate aim of a music therapist , like all therapists , is to help the individual take small and consistent steps toward their goals that often include returning to their home , quality of life activities , and getting back to satisfying work and life .
One example is Greg , a corporate executive and life-long athlete in his 50s who had a major stroke that rendered him unable to walk or talk . After three years of treatment , he shares with others that , “ Music therapy helped me find myself when so much of me was taken away . The Music Therapist helped heal my voice , my hands , and my heart .”
Music therapists help individuals find the right kind of music at the right time . Just like our physical health , our mental health requires attention , perhaps now more than ever . Music therapists believe there is no better way to give it the care it needs than through the right music , at the right time , and in the right way .
A single element of music like rhythm can be used to move someone from superhigh anxiety states to calmer more cognitive states . For example , in some cases , a person who works with a Music therapist will enter a deep-seated creative process that will ease their mind and guide them to see the world through a different lens — helping them feel less stuck . Spending time in music therapy can provide so many of the things we crave as humans – challenges , validation , recognition , and an opportunity to express ourselves freely .
These results , and the hope for the future , indicate that every healthcare facility , employee assistance program , and learning centre has a Certified Music Therapist available for their people who seek development or change – regardless of age or circumstance .
In the words of one of Canada ’ s music therapy pioneers :
“ I think that every little step we achieve helps make people realize how empowering music therapy can be . Every time we have success with a client , every time we touch someone and there is a response that is positive , it helps to widen the awareness of how music has been a part of the lives of every group of people on every continent from the days of the first beating drum .”
– Fran Herman , Music Therapy Pioneer
How can people find a music therapist in their area or online ? Canada – musictherapy . ca Music Therapists around the world – wfmt . info
Jennifer Buchanan , MBA , MTA , is Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Music Therapists , a Certified Music Therapist , and Author of ‘ Wellness , Wellplayed : The Power of a Playlist .’ She can be reached at jennifer @ jbmusic . ca .
32 CANADIAN MUSICIAN