People have used music to medicate for a long time. Turning on your favorite song after a stressful day is a common example. Listening to soothing music to help you fall asleep is another. But is their scientific evidence to back this idea? Does music therapy warrant a place in modern psychology practices? Many experts are saying, “Yes!”
One in four adult Americans suffer from a mental illness, with only around 40% ever receive professional care. The stigma surrounding mental illness is still very prevalent, but there are alternatives that are growing in popularity and now are being supported by scientific research. Yoga, meditation and the creative arts are all shown to help those in need of treatment. Music, due to its ubiquity in society, has undoubtedly the biggest potential for helping suffering people.
Research has shown that music is an effective treatment for a wide breadth of mental illnesses. It has been shown in controlled treatment outcome studies to improve the social functioning and symptoms of schizophrenics. The addition of music therapy, in tandem with traditional therapies, have also helped those suffering from depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
There are measurable, chemical indicators of music’s efficacy. These positive physical changes are the strongest evidence for including music therapy in mental illness treatment. Some of the direct, biological effects that listening to music can produce are; reduced heart rate, reduced cortisol levels, and lowered blood pressure.
There are also more intangible benefits that are harder to measure. Prosocial lyrics can have hugely beneficial effects to those suffering from mental angst. Lyrics to an uplifting song can create positive thought, empathy and improve behavior. If you have every had your mood lifting by a beautiful song, than you have experienced this effect.
Lastly, there is a interactive aspect of music that has the potential to be hugely helpful. Research published in the Journal of Urban Health has proven the benefits of social connection to mental health treatment outcomes. Social ties encourage psychological well-being. The connective power of music is hard to overstate. A room full of people singing the same positive song can be an almost religious experience — the connectivity is palpable. Pete Seeger singing, “We Shall Overcome” has been able to reach more people than all the therapists combined.
Music has an undeniable ability to heal and it is time for more mental health professionals to embrace it’s use.