For many, music is seen simply as something to keep you entertained while you walk to class, take a jog, etc. It is simply a past-time that most people could live without. This is why it is difficult for most people to see music as able to mend a person’s mental health. Those who haven’t experienced emotional healing through music will not understand how it is able to do so. Then there are others who have a strong attraction towards music. Whether that be learning an instrument, producing music, or simply being an avid listener. For these people, music has most likely played a large role in their lives and is something they can call back to for important and fond memories. The role that music is able to play in people’s lives isn’t very widely known, it is just something that some people understand, and some people don’t. Fortunately, modern research in mental health therapies has led to a greater focus in music therapy. This itself has opened up many positive discussions based on the idea that music is able to improve mental health. To see how this may be possible, one must understand how we use music in our everyday lives, how our upbringing affects our perception of music, and how music therapy relates to it all.
There are many ways we use music in our day to day lives. We can pop in our headphones for anything from a hype up, to a solemn session of self-reflection. In both of these scenarios, music is being used as a technology of the self. A technology of the self is anything that we may use in our lives to improve upon ourselves (Semenza 3). This may confuse those who see music as nothing more than noise, as they have not been introduced to these ideas. A simpler way to explain it is as a coping mechanism. Everyone uses something to cope with their daily struggles, whether or not the coping mechanism is a positive one is highly dependent on what the mechanism actually is. Fortunately, music functions as a positive coping mechanism, mainly for those who perceive it as one. Though that is the case, there are many people who unknowingly use music to cope. The knowledge that it is a mechanism only increases its ability to be useful one. For those that use music to cope in their everyday lives, they will also see it enabling them to partake in more emotional regulation and self-reflection, both of which are vital to maintaining a healthy mind (Semenza 7).
““Emotional regulation is defined as “the heterogeneous set of processes by which emotions are themselves regulated, including changes in emotion dynamics, or the latency, rise time, magnitude, duration, and offset of responses in behavioral, experiential, physiological domains”.”” (Semenza 6). This is a complicated process, one that I feel is very important to understand. To put it in more understandable terms, emotional regulation can be described as controlling and maintaining emotions and how they come to be, what causes them, and how they make us act. One should be able to infer that this process is quite important in developing a positive mental well-being. Knowing all of this, music should be viewed differently, as it helps us with emotional regulation. Listening to, writing, composing, and even singing along to music can all help enable this process, for some people.
The differences in people’s upbringings determine whether or not music will help them enable these sorts of emotionally reflective processes that benefit their mental health. Those who had more positive musical experiences growing up will be more likely to perceive music as a helpful tool for coping with difficulties in life. An example of a positive musical experience would be having your parent show you their favorite music, and then listening to it with you, maybe even singing along too. Experiencing these types of events when we grow up will lead us to placing a much greater importance on music and other arts. The amount of importance that art holds in one’s life is also a very important factor for determining how likely they will be to use music as a coping mechanism. (Semenza 12). People who were raised by parents who placed no importance on music will most likely not know how to use it to enable these emotionally reflective processes. This isn’t to say that these people are missing out on something important, as many people do not require such a strong focus on their own emotions. Either that, or they have found another way to enable their own emotionally reflective processes. There are a lot of people though that have not developed any way to regulate their own emotions, and this can lead to mental health problems.
Music therapy seeks to teach people with mental health issues how to use music as a positive tool for self-help, through professionally structured listening, playing, writing, and more. This helps them manage emotions and express their feelings, which will eventually improve their overall social functioning and mental state. (McCaffrey et al. 1) The concept of music therapy is very similar to the idea that music is a technology of the self, which is very intriguing in some respects. For instance, how is it that some people are able to intuitively use music to positively benefit their mental health, similarly to what is taught in music therapy? This remains unanswered, but we can still take a look at how music therapy grasps the recovery approach to mental health.
“The recovery approach recognizes that much more than clinical symptom management or reduction is needed in supporting optimal care objectives for individuals.” (McCaffrey et al. 2) The process mainly includes focusing on all of the positive aspects of one’s life. This approach to mental health is much more personal and caring than the standard clinical approach. (McCaffrey et al. 2) Most standard clinical approaches simply are not enough for some people, they require something to work with and focus on to help them cope with what they deal with on a day to day basis. Music helps do exactly that, which is what makes it so similar to the recovery approach. In researching music therapy and its similarities to the recovery approach, McCaffrey et al. state that, “…clients attending music therapy services do so regularly, and note that self-care frequently improves… Therefore, these aspects of potential benefits including self-care and economic impact might be considered as a parameter for evaluation in future studies.” (4). Basically, there is a lot more to be learned about music therapy and how it might positively impact patients. The fact that it is so similar to the recovery approach should show how it is a helpful recovery method, designed to help with mental health issues. Considering how much music seems to be able to help people, I believe that much more research on the matter needs to be conducted in the near future.
Although there needs to be more research, it is very clear that music has the ability to serve as a technology of the self, a therapeutic method, and a coping mechanism. All of these are very positive aspects of music, as they all focus on the idea of bettering ourselves. This is great and all, but there has also been a study that look at how music therapy has been able to reduce postpartum physical pain in women. This seems quite farfetched, as one might be wondering how exactly can music relieve physical pain? In this study, they took two groups of pregnant women in similar conditions and put one group through music therapy after giving birth. The women in the music therapy group had all reported lower levels of physical pain. This in itself is quite astounding, although it doesn’t declare exactly why the music made reduced their pain levels. (Simavli et al. 1) One could hypothesize that it is simply distracting them from the pain, others would argue that the music therapy causes the body to release chemicals that reduce pain. No matter the case, music has the ability to mitigate both emotional and physical pain.
Overall, there are a lot of different beliefs about music and how it is able to affect the mental health of people, with or without mental disorders. Not only that, but in some cases, it has been known to reduce physical pain. Though that is the case, most research has concluded that if it is having any affect at all, it is a positive one. I can vouch for this, as I have spent my life listening to, studying, and creating my own music. It is able to serve as a coping mechanism for people on a day to day basis by giving them a distraction and putting them in a better mood. It helps people reflect on and regulate their emotions through relation to lyrics, even if it is deriving uncomfortable emotions. These uncomfortable emotions that music may derive are the most important ones to conquer, as they are usually the most troublesome ones for our mental health. Music is therapeutic in nature and it should be viewed and used as such in order to help better the mental health of generations to come.