Music Therapy

Music therapy uses a variety of methods, such as singing, dancing, playing instruments, and listening to music, to help people recovering from a substance use disorder create a sense of community, confidence, and self-expression.

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Music Therapy for a Substance Use Disorder

Music therapy has been used for years as a therapy for children, people with autism, dementia, or a psychiatric disorder, and people struggling with a substance use disorder. It uses evidence-based musical interventions to reduce stress, open communication, enhance well-being, and distract patients from uncomfortable symptoms, among other benefits. The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as the, “clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Music therapists can work with patients who are undergoing treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction to achieve feelings of relaxation and accomplishment.

There are many types of music therapy, but it is based on 2 fundamental methods: the receptive method and the active method. The receptive listening-based method focuses on listening to pre-recorded or live music selected by a therapist. It can be used as a relaxation exercise to treat depression and anxiety. It can also be used as an analytical exercise. The active method involves playing musical instruments and singing. Different therapy techniques may include:

  • Creating art with music
  • Dancing or moving to music
  • Drumming
  • Discussing emotional reactions that music triggers
  • Improvising songs
  • Learning to play an instrument
  • Listening to music
  • Learning music-assisted relaxation techniques
  • Playing instruments
  • Singing along to live or prerecorded songs
  • Writing choreography
  • Writing song lyrics
  • Writing music for new songs
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Any instrument can be used in music therapy, but the most popular are hand drums, guitar, and piano. The freedom of playing the hand drum gives the patient an opportunity to be expressive and connect with musical rhythms without fear of hitting the wrong note. The guitar is the top instrument used by music therapists, where a patient can learn to play the soothing instrument in a solo or group setting. Pianos are a popular choice and are often used in a group setting, as the instruments sounds are steady and hold the melody. According to The American Music Therapy Association, the specific outcomes that are desired while using music therapy are:

  • Reduced muscle tension
  • Improved self-image
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Decreased anxiety and agitation
  • Increased verbalization
  • Enhanced interpersonal relationships
  • Improved group cohesiveness
  • Enhanced self-expression and self-awareness
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved perception and differentiation of feelings
  • Improved ability to titrate abreaction, self sooth, recognize and cope with traumatic triggers

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How Can Music Help with Addiction?

Playing guitar is often used in music therapy. Upon entering treatment, a treatment plan will be laid out for the individual needs of each patient. Depending on the treatment center, music therapy may be a part of this. If music is something that is important to the individual, it is wise to speak to different inpatient treatment centers to make sure that music therapy is offered. The emotions associated with addiction can be overwhelming for the individual who is struggling. Feelings of hopelessness are common, if they feel that they have destroyed relationships or created financial or legal problems because of their addiction. Feelings of frustration and anger are common, as well as guilt and shame. Shame may be a factor in causing an addict to withdraw from the people in their life. Living with a substance use disorder can result in a lack of self-esteem, especially if they’ve lost their jobs, relationships, or have disappointed their friends and family.

Music therapy can help regulate negative emotions and promote self-growth. In group sessions, participants can enjoy the sense of community as they learn new songs together and work as a team. Groups may communicate by brainstorming music video ideas, listening to and discussing music, reading informational articles for discussion, view music videos, and sing solo or in a group. Music Therapist Kathleen Killeen says she, “observes a fraternal camaraderie in the majority of her group patients that they might never have encountered in their own families or communities.” Patients may feel a sense of belonging that once seemed unattainable.

Working on self-esteem is another key component of music therapy. Learning a new instrument can be very challenging and takes time and dedication. The feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction upon learning a new song or technique can build self-esteem and help the recovering addict build confidence and pride in their achievements. This confidence can help in other parts of life, such as decision making, managing stress, and coping with cravings. Self-expression is part of music and dancing and doing so can help patients feel more comfortable speaking freely. Music therapy has been shown to improve openness within interpersonal relationships. It can be difficult to verbalize unpleasant thoughts and feelings, especially if someone has experienced a form of trauma. The music therapist can better connect with their patient on an emotional level using music, creating a non-threatening opportunity for communication.

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Is Music Therapy Right for Me?

There are many options when choosing therapies for a substance use disorder, such as animal-assisted therapy, meditation therapy, and holistic therapies such as massage, spiritual, and art therapy. When selecting a treatment center, it’s important to note the types of therapy that they have available. Once you arrive at a rehabilitation facility, professionals will work with you to create a treatment plan which may include music therapy. You do not need to already know how to play an instrument or have a particular passion for music; anyone can benefit from exploring this type of therapy as a form of self-expression. Connect with a treatment provider to get answers to your questions, risk-free.

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