Music Therapy As A Method Of Mental Health Support

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Music is all around the world and is a major part of all cultures. It has been around since the beginning of time and it is something every human being can experience on a deep level, bringing forth emotions or memories. Music therapy developed from this connection between emotion and music as a method to support mental health and it spans from just simply listening to music, playing music, or dancing to it. Led by a trained therapist, music therapy is used in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, correctional facilities, nursing homes, hospices and more (American Music Therapy Association). Music therapy is an established health profession that has been used for centuries and leads to many health benefits in the brain such as emotion, cognition, and movement.

Music Therapy

Music Therapy is an established health profession where music is used after assessing the strengths and needs of each patient (AMTA).A qualified music therapist supports the patient with treatment that includes creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, patients abilities are strengthened and conducted to other areas of their lives. Music therapy also provides pathways for communication that can be helpful to those who find it Hard or stressful to express themselves in words (AMTA). Studies in music therapy support its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and encouraging movement, increasing people's motivation to become engaged in their treatment/surroundings, providing emotional support for patients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of their feelings. (AMTA)

History of Music Therapy

“Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything” - Plato

The thought of music as a healing influence that could affect health and behavior is as old as the writings of Aristotle and Plato (AMTA).

The 20th century practice of music therapy started after World War I and World War II when community musicians of all types, both amateur and professional, would visit veteran hospitals around the country to play music for the thousands of veterans suffering both physical and emotional trauma from the wars. (AMTA) The patients' visible physical and emotional responses to music led the doctors and nurses to ask for the hiring of musicians by the hospitals. It was evident that the hospital musicians needed more training before entering the facility and so the demand grew for a college course. The first music therapy degree program in the world was founded at Michigan State University in 1944. Later the American Music Therapy Association was founded in 1998 as a union of the National Association for Music Therapy and the American Association for Music Therapy. (AMTA)

Educational requirements to be a music therapist

The entry-level curriculum for (M.T.) includes clinical coursework and extended internship requirements in an approved mental health, special education, or health care facility.(AMTA) When you successfully completing academic and clinical training, and pass the national examination administered by the independent Certification Board for Music Therapists, the graduate earns the credentials and licensing, you can visit the Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC) to learn more about becoming a music therapist.(AMTA).

Effects of playing music on the вrain

In addition to the claims of Music Therapy and Health Care Professionals, many artists claim music has changed their lives for the better. The act of playing music affects the brain physically in different ways depending on what instrument is used.

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Practicing/playing a musical instrument can lead to many different structural changes in the brain after only about 15 months of training in early childhood. These changes are connected with multiple improvements in areas that impact motor and auditory skills, such as: hand-eye coordination or recognizing repetition and/or patterns in sound.

One place where these structural and functional changes happen, is in the hippocampus, the area of the brain primarily involved in learning and memory. A process that is crucial for learning and memory in the hippocampus is neurogenesis – the accumulation of new neurons in the brain. Musical practice may therefore enhance neurogenesis that’s linked to better learning and memory activity (Sherman).

Musical actions in the music therapy setting communicate much more than the sound and the music we create together; the use of different musical elements as well as the choice of instruments and patterns of musical interaction all have the ability to tap into an individual’s unconscious by acting as transference/countertransference trigger. This is when music becomes much more than just the sound that you hear. (Bruscia)

For example: dissonance in music may make some listeners feel uneasy or uncomfortable, it helps to create tension and a sense of motion in compositions, dissonance is a tool used by composers to achieve a certain effect or mood in listeners; it can be used to create and escalate excitement or nervousness. However, haromoneys have a much different effect A new model suggests that harmonious musical intervals trigger a rhythmically consistent firing pattern in certain auditory neurons, and that sweet sounds carry more information than harsh ones, Each sends an electrical signal to a third neuron, called an interneuron, which sends a final signal to the brain.(Lisa Grossman)

Why humans have a unique relationship with music

From an evolutionary perspective, it doesn't make much sense that music makes us feel emotional (Resnick). Why would our ancestors have cared about music? Despite many who'd argue the contrary, it's not necessary for survival. Studies have shown that when you listen to music, your brain releases dopamine, which in turn makes us happy. In one study published in Nature Neuroscience, led by (M.T) Zatorre, the researchers found that dopamine release is strongest when a piece of music reaches an emotional peak (Resnick).

Typically, our brains release dopamine during behavior that's essential to survival (sex or eating). But music is a pattern. As you listen, you’re constantly anticipating what melodies, harmonies, and rhythms may come next. So if I hear a chord progression — a one chord, a four chord, and a five chord — probably know that the next chord is going to be another one chord, because that’s prediction.

That's why we usually don't like styles of music we're not familiar with. When we are unfamiliar with a style of music, we don't have a basis to predict its patterns. ( jazz is one music style that many unacquainted have trouble latching onto). When a person can't predict musical patterns, they get bored. We learn through our cultures what sounds makeup music. (Resnick) It is important to know this in (M.T.) because therapists need to know what kind of musical patterns the human brain is searching for in different people and how to use these patterns of music in an affective and beneficial way.


In conclusion, this paper has shown the positive effects of music on the emotional, psychological, and physical human body. Music therapy is widely used as a very hands on and captivating activity, benefiting individuals lives in multiple ways. Music Therapy has been used since World War I, and has turned into a professional career that requires a college degree. The entry-level curriculum includes clinical coursework and extended internship requirements in an approved mental health, special education, or health care facility along with passing the national examination administered by the independent Certification Board for Music. Practicing a musical instrument can lead to numerous structural changes in the brain and as we listen, we constantly anticipate what melodies, harmonies, and rhythms may come next, releasing dopamine into our brains. For most of us, music is just an everyday aspect of life and not something you would necessarily think of as a therapeutic tool. However, music benefits everyone from every culture and connects us all as human beings and has been recognized for centuries as a healing influence which affect health and behavior.

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Music Therapy As A Method Of Mental Health Support. (2021, August 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from
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