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Why try music therapy?

Well, to start, it can be just plain fun—a break.  You can learn how to sing your favorite song—or play it on a guitar, or just follow the beat with a drum or shaker.  It doesn’t matter how well you play, it’s just the fun of doing it. 

Child playing guitar

Gain a sense of control and accomplishment

Music is something you can do, even when you can’t do other things you used to.  And you have control over how you participate and what music you choose.  (And of course, you can always choose not to participate if it isn’t helpful that day.)

Going through treatment and recovery means losing control--of your time, where you have to be, what you can do. In this situation, where so much is stripped away, music therapy offers a chance to be in control of something, to accomplish something when other abilities are gone.  It might even be as simple as getting out of bed and, in this simple act, reclaiming part of that self that you may have felt that you’ve lost.

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“My goal isn't that you’re going to play the perfect G chord or that you’re going to perform at a show. Instead, it’s a chance to feel proud about doing something when a lot of other things are being stripped away from you. It’s a chance to be totally in control of something.” 

Attribution
Greta Yates, Music Therapist- Board Certified

Connect with and process emotions

In addition, music therapists can help you process the sometimes powerful connection with emotion that arises when listening to music.  Music therapist Greta notes, I've learned in my practice just to be mindful and allow the space to talk and process.”

Music therapists can also help you learn coping skills.  For example a therapist might notice that their client appears anxious and ask about it.  They might help you explore: “What are you noticing about this anxiety? What do you do when you feel anxious?”  They might offer suggestions: “It seems that when you play guitar, you are really focused and aren’t as anxious. So perhaps when you are feeling overwhelmed, you could just take a step back and decide to play guitar.  Or perhaps just listen--what kind of music might you listen to?"

Read some examples in the boxes below.

Music therapy was a fun activity for Jack

Jack loved music therapy while he was recovering.  “Music therapy helps get you out of the cycle of doing nothing and feeling terrible while lying in bed.  It gives you something to focus on that isn't treatment related, and making music just somehow improves your mood. ”

Music helped Kyle with difficult emotions

Music helped Kyle connect with his emotions and express himself.   Kyle explains, “Just being able to recognize an emotion is so important to be able to dispel the emotion or have it eventually pass. Because if you're angry, you can live in that anger for a very long period of time if you don't find a way to make it tangible or to recognize it.”

Music made Gracie forget the pain and illness

Gracie could only faintly remember what it felt like to not be so ill. But, "from the first time she met Greta and began to experience her gifts of music, she did not feel sick...she did not feel any pain. For the first time in three years, she felt like herself. She listened to the healing happen."

Help with physical rehab

Music therapy can also help you with your physical rehab goals.  It can be a great motivator to get out of bed and move.  You can use the rhythm and energy of the music to pace your exercises.  Listening to energizing music may even inspire you to dance.

When the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital conducted a research study about the benefits of music therapy, one of the most important results was that music therapy encouraged patients to get out of bed and be active.  One teenager confessed that she would pretend to be asleep for things she did not want to do but would get out of bed when she heard the music therapist’s voice!

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    For caregivers of younger children

    Music therapist Greta notes that music therapy can be very helpful for children's physical rehab. “I try to push them and be active, because we know that it's important to prevent complications and increase conditioning.

    Even just sitting up in bed or moving to a chair is helpful: it moves patients away from the tendency to sleep while lying in bed and engages them more actively in what is happening around them.”

  • Engaging with music can tie in with bigger rehab goals. Playing drums for example, might mean standing for 15 minutes.  Grabbing for a shaker and rattling it all around might involve reaching hands above the head and developing those muscles and coordination.

  • Greta recalls a fun example with one of her patients. ”She liked to dance to Britney Spear's Toxic: it motivated her to get out of bed and show that she was a better dancer than me. So we would dance to these music videos and she taught me all the dance moves. It let her feel in charge of something, that she was good at something, where she had total control.”

     

Connect with others

Music can help us connect with our emotions and offer a way to get our feelings out.  Sometimes when we are going through a difficult time, it is hard to talk to others, but we can express ourselves through music.  You can ask your therapist to create a playlist to match your mood—and share it with family or friends to let them know how you are feeling.  You might listen together, sharing a moment. 

You can express yourself even more by writing your own lyrics.  A music therapist can help you find or write the music. You may use the melody from a popular song and rewrite the chorus to be about your experiences or your dreams. Or you can create a whole new song and melody with help from the music therapist. It’s up to you! It can be as simple or as complicated as you want to be, and you get to decide.  

Read some examples below.

Singing together

Many families have songs they enjoy together or family traditions, such as singing certain holiday songs. In working with a music therapist, everyone can come together and sing or play an instrument and have a chance to be together engaging in something they love.

For example, one family loved Sweet Caroline because it was always played at their home football games. So they would all come and sing the song together.

Sharing music

One music therapist shares this story. “He was an 18-year-old male with impulsivity and some cognition deficits, but he loved 21 Pilots. When he sat down to sing some of their songs and play guitar, it was one of the rare moments that he was still and focused. 

His family would join us to watch. It was wonderful for them to see their child with a questionable outcome be successful and engaged what he loved. It was memory-making for his mother and grandparents to share the moment.”

Relax

Sometimes what you most want to do is get a break from the stress and anxiety or be able to sleep better.  As you have probably experienced, music can help you relax.   Music therapists often see that relaxing music impacts their client’s vital signs: blood pressure and heartrate often go down, while oxygen saturation levels go up.  Scientists report that music can lower the production of the stress hormone cortisol, and increase production of the “happy” hormone and neurotransmitter, dopamine.

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