“Where words fail, music speaks.” – Hans Christian Andersen
The notion that music can heal is not a far-fetched, idealistic statement. For centuries, music has been used as a tool to form community bonds and express ideas. When integrated into society, music increases cooperation with others, empathy and cultural cohesion. Historically, this bond was utilized by artists like Pete Seeger, Nina Simone, and John Lennon, who used their art to spur change.
As of late, we’ve been experiencing a movement in American music in which societal issues and politics are being openly expressed and positively received. Beyoncé’s visual album, “Lemonade,” released in 2016, boldly discussed themes of marriage infidelity and black identity. Upon its release, it debuted at the top of the billboard charts and created media buzz, increasing awareness around these issues.
A politically-charged album by Kendrick Lamar soon followed, as well as a powerful record by Solange, which spoke to the issues of race, womanhood, and equality. While the concept of using music to incite change is not novel, the willingness of industry icons to use their voice has reminded us of the power music has to unite communities and heal the individual.
The Effect of Music on the Body
Have you ever been listening to a song and found yourself experiencing “the chills?” This rush you get during a wave of emotion is actually a release of dopamine, also known as “musical frisson.”
Along with being a powerful mood booster, listening to music lowers blood pressure and improves muscle function. Recent studies show that music can also:
- Improve brain function
- Increase productivity
- Strengthen memory and learning
- Equalize brain waves
Because of its positive impacts on the body and psyche, music is now a tool commonly used by therapists, a treatment known as Music Therapy.
Music Therapy and Addiction Recovery
Along with the notable physical changes in our bodies while listening to music, there is also strong evidence to support that music therapy can result in dramatic changes in behavior. Many mental health professionals licensed in music therapy have noted its impact on their clients’ motivation and engagement.
The Natural Rush and Creative Thinking
It is widely known that many addictive drugs provide the user with a euphoric effect by over-stimulating the brain’s reward system. Experiencing music also results in a release of dopamine, but at a naturally occurring level.
Because of this, many therapists use music in recovery treatment in order to re-familiarize the body with the feeling of a natural rush. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways:
- By singing along to music
- Meditating to music
- Exercising and moving to music
These are all techniques commonly explored in music therapy. On the journey to sobriety, music is a healthy substitute for substances as it provides pleasure and reward by releasing dopamine naturally.
Many people who suffer from addiction create defensive thinking patterns in which they will minimize, deny, and/or lie in order to continue their behavior. Music directly rivals these rigid ways of thinking by introducing creative thought patterns.
This new fluidity allows clients to tap into different emotions and creates a safe place to explore emotional states they once considered uncomfortable, allowing for vulnerability and a better ground for recovery.
Self Expression, Stress Release, and Self-Esteem
While on the path to recovery, being able to relax and release stress is essential. Stress is often a contributing factor to drug and alcohol addiction, and music offers a healthy outlet for these difficult-to-process feelings.
Whether a person is creating or listening, music serves as a coping mechanism, stress management tool, and creative hobby. Music therapists believe that by providing their client with an alternative for using drugs and alcohol to manage stress, they are less likely to experience a relapse.
A huge step in recovery is developing the ability to express oneself. Self-expression is the first step to self-awareness, which ultimately leads to understanding the impact of addiction and accepting responsibility for recovery.
Creating and listening to music both promote self-expression, and provide a healthy medium for processing the emotions that inevitably come with getting sober.
Additionally, music provides another method of communication for those who find it difficult to express themselves using language.
Along with self-awareness comes self-esteem. On the journey to recovery, many people experience low esteem due to the stigmas surrounding addiction. Providing clients with a positive hobby can boost confidence and self worth. In this case, music is an excellent community building tool that increases connectedness and provides opportunities for those in recovery to feel less alone.
3 Tips For Healing With Music At Home
While true music therapy is practiced by certified professionals, there are some practices we can adopt to promote emotional and mental wellness at home.
1. Choose music that caters to your mood. Whether you are looking to relax, boost your mood, or focus, music has the ability to encourage a healthy state of mind. Create playlists for different moods and play them accordingly. Whether you are looking to encourage a current state of mind or create a new environment, the perfect playlist can make all the difference.
2. Tune into music to tune into yourself. Try this: Put on a song, close your eyes, and focus on what you are hearing.
- What are the lyrics saying?
- What types of instruments are being used?
- How does your body feel?
- Does the music elicit any new emotions?
Sometimes all it takes is a little focus and reflection re-center in the midst of a busy day.
3. Challenge yourself with something new. New experiences are essential for growth and learning. Try listening to a new genre of music or attending a concert you normally wouldn’t. This willingness to venture outside your comfort zone may lead to new, enjoyable experiences and will keep you from feeling stagnant.
Upcoming Event: Rock To Recovery 2
On September 16, Rock to Recovery, a music therapy non-profit organization, will be hosting a fundraising concert at The Fonda Theater in Los Angeles. Expect powerful musical performances, celebrity guests, and a fun, sober environment!
“Music, I think, is best when it honestly explores personal demons, and it stirs around in the silt of the psyche to find out what’s really there.” – Tom Morello, Rage Against the Machine