It is common knowledge that listening to music or playing and instrument provides a sense of calm, enjoyment, nostalgia and many other emotions or feelings. However, listening to music or playing an instrument are just two forms of music as therapy, with much research in the psychological field.
So, can music as therapy and music therapy actually reduce stress?
Let’s look at music therapy first. The process of music therapy, as it is defined within the profession, makes the distinction that music therapy takes place over time; that a series of repeated sessions characterize the therapeutic process rather than a single event producing a therapeutic effect, per Dr Kenneth Bruscia in the Department of Music Education and Music Therapy at Temple University.
The Australian Music Therapy Association states that music therapists incorporate a range of music-making methods in and through a therapeutic relationship. This occurs in a variety of sectors including health, community, aged care, disability, early childhood and private practice. While at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, the aim of music therapy is to use the experience of music to provide treatment support, mental health support and/or neurodevelopment. Overall, music therapy is regarded as a creative intervention and has been applied in psychotherapy and counselling with individuals of all ages, particularly children, for more than 70 years.
In regards to playing an instrument, Dr Suzanne Hanser, chair to the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, notes that research has shown links between adults who play an instrument with lower blood pressure, lower stress levels, decreased heart rate and a reduction in anxiety and depression.
Dr Hanser says there's also increasing evidence that making music enhances the immunological response, which enables us to fight viruses.
Some research indicates the brain of a musician works differently than that of a non-musician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at Johns Hopkins University.
The importance of music education in schools was highlighted in a 2007 study by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, which revealed students in music education programs scored about 22 per cent higher in English and 20 per cent higher in math on standardised tests. As well as better performance results on concentration-based tasks, music can help with basic memory recall, says Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.
Some research indicates the brain of a musician works differently than that of a non-musician.
Then there is the listening to music. In the International Journal of Psychophysiology, researchers Nater, Abbruzzese, Krebs and Ehlert wrote music has been shown to beneficially affect stress-related physiological, as well as cognitive and emotional processes.
Finnish clinical music therapist Dr Kimmo Lehtonen believes music has a close relationship with unconscious emotions, which are activated by musical movement.
This has been supported through research by Dr’s Burns, Labbé, Williams and McCall on the perceived and physiological indicators of relaxation and music.
According to Verywell Mind, an international online resource and partner of The Cleveland Clinic (the number 2 rated hospital in the US), one of the great benefits of music as a stress reliever is that it can be used while you conduct your regular activities. Music provides a wonderful backdrop for your life and you can find increased enjoyment from what you’re doing while reducing stress from your day.
At Trinity Anglican College, in addition to the outstanding music program offered to students, we also provide regular music as therapy jam sessions during lunchtimes as part of the Respect At Trinity program.
So, whether you listen to music, play an instrument, are enrolled in music as a subject or involved in music therapy as a psychological intervention, there's clear evidence that music as therapy and music therapy can bring significant benefits to your overall mental health state.