According to the Music Therapy Association of Ontario, music therapy, in its essence, is "the skillful use of music and musical elements by an accredited music therapist to promote, maintain and restore mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health." To put it more simply, music therapy is the method of using music to help people improve their health. To some, this may seem impractical or even impossible, but there is scientific proof out there that demonstrates the usefulness behind music therapy.
Let's first look at this through a more personal lens. I know that when I've had a long day, sometimes nothing feels better than to listen to some of my favorite songs or play my guitar for a bit. Music acts as a release to me sometimes — that's just how I am. I could also name a ton of artists (such as Bob Marley, Taylor Swift and Jimi Hendrix, among others) who've said that they make music for that exact same reason — it helps with self-expression and emotional, mental and spiritual relief.
To perpetuate this conversation from a scientific angle, let's answer the question, "How does music therapy work?" According to the Music Therapy Association of British Columbia, a music therapist works with clients to create a plan that will help them to achieve goals. While many people assume that music therapy is only beneficial for mental, emotional or social development, there is evidence proving that music therapy actually reduces a person's perception of pain, improves heart rates, improves vital signs, etc. For clients struggling with physical health issues, music therapy is an effective way to reduce discomfort.
How does music therapy help people struggling with mental health? By stimulating the auditory environment, you can begin to affect a person's perception of their own environment. This manifests itself in imagery, memories and moods. It's been noted to especially help people release painful memories or repressed emotions. A cool fact is that clients do not have to play instruments themselves — the therapy is also about responding to music in new, healthy ways that are beneficial for one's growth.
So, without further ado, here are six ways music therapy is beneficial for your health — both mental and physical.
1. It reduces physical discomfort.
As previously mentioned, music therapy is a great way to reduce pain for patients struggling with physical medical conditions. The basic idea is this: Your therapist can help your brain focus solely on music while you're in pain or undergoing a treatment, thus your brain isn't focusing entirely on the pain your body feels.
2. It helps your body heal.
Music encourages our bodies to release various chemicals. The most beneficial chemicals in medical settings are endorphins, immunoglobulin a and cortisol. Endorphins not only enhance our mood, but they are pain blockers, allowing patients to be less receptive to physical pain. Immunoglobulin A attacks viruses within the body, and music has been proven to stimulate the release of more Immunoglobulin A. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by our bodies, and music can lower the levels of this hormone in our bodies. Naturally, our bodies are able to heal better when we're calm and relaxed, so lower cortisol levels are very important for improving one's health.
3. Music therapy can help people with depression.
Depression is a disorder that affects our mood, causing persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, loneliness and hopelessness. This may come to interfere with our emotional and physical health, for example, if a person is unable to sleep well at night or isn't eating properly. By stimulating the brain and relieving stress, music therapy can make individuals more receptive to antidepressants. In a study published by The British Journal of Psychiatrist, people with depressive disorders were split into two groups. One of the groups received standard care for depression, whereas the other group received music therapy as well. After a few months, patients receiving music therapy had shown better improvement than people without music therapy.
4. It can improve your quality of sleep.
This is something that nearly all college students struggle with. Specifically for people who suffer from insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up too early), music therapy can help improve the duration of sleep, better sleep efficiency and better functioning throughout the day.
5. Improving your attention.
There are four different types of attention, according to Music Therapy Maven: Sustained attention (focusing on one task), selective attention (focusing on something while ignoring other stimuli around you), alternating attention (shifting your attention between different tasks) and divided attention (responded simultaneously to different tasks). As a student, you'll need to utilize different types of attention at different times, and music therapy can teach you to do so. For example, you may try to improve your selective attention by listening to a song, but only focusing on hearing one instrument.
6. Coping with emotions.
College comes with many emotional highs and lows, from friendship drama to relationships to academic difficulties. Music has commonly been known as a way for people to express themselves freely and virtually escape from their realities. Music is used to invoke emotions and symbols from patients by stimulating the auditory environment, thus allowing them to begin expressing themselves more clearly with music.
All science and medical research aside, it's no surprise that music heals people. Some people don't even need to undertake music therapy to feel better — they just need to play their instruments or put some headphones in and sit back for a while. Whatever the case may be, whether you have a medical condition or not, I hope that this article finds you well, because I think everyone can benefit from indulging in a little bit of music.
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