Helping Yourself with Music Therapy

The ability of music to affect moods and emotions has been recognized for a long time. Lullabies are used all over the world to calm children, and wailing at funerals is an obvious way to express grief. But music has also been used as a formal therapy – including as an adjunct to psychotherapy – since the 1940s. People who have psychological problems, or a disability that prevents them from communicating well with others, can benefit from music therapy because it can help them express themselves without having to speak. And improving self-expression can improve socialization.

Music may also have an effect on the physical body. Music is sound, and sound is a collection of vibrations. Different tones and pitches create different vibrations, which can affect parts of the body in many ways. Studies have shown that music can affect the rhythm of the heartbeat and of breathing, and possibly of the blood pressure as well. Music may also promote the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain reliever, which would explain why it is so good at relieving everyday stress.

You can create your own form of music “therapy” in several different ways. If you would like to make positive changes to your moods, you can make your own recordings, starting with music that matches the mood you would like to change and progressing to music that matches the mood you would like to evoke. Then when you notice an undesirable mood, you can listen to your recordings, preferably while trying to relax, to bring yourself back to where you would like to be.

Passive listening to music can have many positive effects, but many music therapists believe that participation is even more valuable. You don’t need any musical talent to do this. Certainly if you already play a musical instrument you can do that, but it’s also possible to benefit from singing, chanting, or toning. Singing, of course, uses many notes and rhythms, as well as words. Chanting uses just a few notes – or possibly only one – and a very steady rhythm that does not change. Toning is similar to chanting, but without the words. You don’t even need to open your mouth; humming can be a form of toning, if there is no real melody.

There are only two real cautions to take into account when using music therapy. The first is that music therapy is not intended as a medical treatment, so if you have a serious or chronic illness, or symptoms that have not been diagnosed, you should see a physician first. Music therapy can help mental or emotional problems, but they should first be evaluated by a trained health care practitioner, because there may be other treatments that are more suitable. Also, the practitioner may want to refer the patient to a trained music therapist rather than having them treat themselves.

The other caution is to keep the volume of your music – whether you are creating it or just listening to it – at a reasonable level. Very loud levels of music have been known to permanently damage hearing.

Music, with its melody, harmony, and rhythm, has been an important form of self-expression for as long as humans have been able to create it. As music therapy, it is now even more helpful. But you don’t need to have serious mental or emotional issues to benefit from music. The next time you have a stressful day, listen to some music when you get home. You’ll probably find that your stress has come down to a more manageable level – or maybe even disappeared.

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