Music and Mental Health

Ebony Carter, Writer

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When I was inpatient at various mental health hospitals, one thing I could always say I liked across the board no matter the facility was the music therapy. This was always the type of therapy that lifted my soul and truly spoke to whatever was wrong with me.

Individuals in an inpatient facility are often not in the wake of their finest hour – many are either experiencing something from difficulty processing emotions, trauma, grief, anxiety, and dysregulation. Music can be used as a calming agent for all of the hardships mentioned above.

There are four major therapeutic processes involved in music therapy: lyric analysis, improvisation music playing, active music listening, and songwriting. Lyric analysis is a practice of dissecting the lyrics of a song to find the meaning and dive into the story that the song creates. Often while doing this, individuals find that they can relate the lyrics to something that they have or currently are experiencing in their life. The lyric analysis also opens a process and opportunity to discuss the things that are usually hard to discuss, though affect us dearly on our day to day life.

Having a song that you can connect to deeply in hard, dark times often provided relief. Improvisation music playing is a fancy way of saying to play an instrument. Playing an instrument allows you to be expressive, social, and explore many therapeutic themes throughout your healing journeys such as communication, conflict, grief, and many other things that individuals tend to struggle with. Highs of playing instruments, like the loud parts of a piece, or the tension in musical dynamics can correlate to the peak in our struggles or the hard times that we are going through in our stories. For many individuals, reaching the lows when playing an instrument resembles the de-escalation and calm of resolving with issues.

While doing this you are not just banging on a drum or blowing into a flute; the way people play their instrument and the sounds they make open many deep discussions concerning the feelings, the highs, and lows, of the individuals in the group. Active music listening is just what it sounds like: simply listening to music – that’s it. Listening to music can help to regulate mood, while you take in the sounds of the music along with the words, you can often use them to soothe yourself or help you cope with whatever it is you are going through. Because of the rhythm and repetition in music, this engages the neocortex of our brains,  responsible for regulating focus and actual engagement, change, and impact.

We often put on songs to match or alter our mood. Although, sometimes listening to music that matches the mood we are in can keep us in a depressive state, so it’s important to be mindful of this. Songwriting is helpful not just in the aspect of its music involvement, but in provoking creativity and expression, as well as the reflection involved. When you are writing a song, you are often writing about an important, impactful situation in your life.

Because of this, you are forced to think about a situation in all its aspects and how it affected, or still affects you and what you can do moving forward regarding overcome it. This is a positive way of reinforcing hope and light for your future. You get a chance to explore the fine details when you are picking the sounds and instruments to create your song because these often connotate the shadow and background experiences in life. This helps to validate the feelings that the individual is feeling, which is often where the breakdown in many healing journeys lay. This also helps with building self-worth in finding new talents, strengths, coping skills, and a sense of achievement.