Music is everywhere. It’s on the radio while driving, it’s played in shops and at weddings, it’s what gives movies its dramatic effects and it’s even found within the rhythm of our heartbeat. Music is life, and it has the ability to make us feel and to heal our emotions.
Slowly we are seeing music therapy creeping its way more and more, into the medical world and into mental health. Few weeks ago, during a busy shift on a mental health ward, we had an education session solely on just playing drums. I’ll admit, first it felt funny being dragged aside on a busy shift for an education session on drums. Most of us laughed at each other and exchanged funny looks, as we sat there in a round circle with our big African drums. Not knowing that even just by laughing together, and releasing all our tensions into playing the drums was going to be healing in itself.
So how does music actually help with symptoms of depression and anxiety? A study by Castillo et al (2010), showed that those who received music therapy showed a statistically significant improvement in their depressive symptoms. Music helped with treating anhedonia, or loss of pleasure. Certain types of music such as Mozart, was also shown to improve the regulation of dopamine, which is a chemical involved in feelings of pleasure and reduction of depressive symptoms. In a study by Guetin et al (2009), music therapy also showed a reduction in symptoms of anxiety for even up to 2 months.
Music also promotes healing, as it’s sociable and meaningful, allowing us to engage with others (Maratos, Crawford & Procter, 2011). During our session we took it in turns to listen to the rhythms played by others, and then tried to repeat the same tunes. We learnt to communicate with each other through music. We laughed, listened and played together.
And of course, it taught us all to be mindful and present. As playing music requires us to be active and to move our bodies, it lets us get away from our minds and our troubling thoughts for a while. It lets us be present in the moment, with no worries about the past and no anxiety about the future. Just us, and the music. By the end of the session, the music therapy had done its magic. We all left feeling much lighter and with smiles on our faces.
Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for any medical treatment or advice. Please always consult with your health care professional.
Castillo-Pérez, S., Gómez-Pérez, V., Velasco, M. C., Pérez-Campos, E., & Mayoral, M. A. (2010). Effects of music therapy on depression compared with psychotherapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 37(5), 387-390
Guetin, S., Portet, F., Picot, M. C., Pommié, C., Messaoudi, M., Djabelkir, L., … & Touchon, J. (2009). Effect of music therapy on anxiety and depression in patients with Alzheimer’s type dementia: randomised, controlled study. Dementia and geriatric cognitive disorders, 28(1), 36-46.
Maratos, A., Crawford, M. J. & Procter, S. (2011). Music therapy for depression: it seems to work, but how? [Editorial]. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 199 (2) 92-93. [Online]