By Dr. Eugene Brink
There is no doubt that music soothes the soul.
Whether we’re happy or sad, many of us turn to a melody to express our feelings and it could be called a light cure-all of sorts. “Music, because of its ubiquity in our society as well as its ease of transmission, has perhaps the greatest potential among alternative therapies to reach people who do not otherwise have access to care,” says Michael Friedman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specialising in how social relationships influence mental and physical health.
But which specific and proven healing effects are rendered by music?
Friedman says music is a connecting experience. Depression and other mental illness can blunt your emotions and make you feel closed off. Music can reconnect you to your emotions by making you feel sad, angry or happy. Crying, singing or dancing when hearing beautiful lyrics is undoubtedly soothing – even if it’s just for a few moments.
It could also stimulate your social side. “Research clearly demonstrates that improved social connection and support can improve mental health outcomes. Thus, any music that helps connect people can have a profound impact on an individual’s mental health.”
Overcoming or suppressing fear is another benefit of music. When you feel stressed of anxious, throw on your headphones and breathe to the relaxing or inspirational music.
Beverly Merz, executive director at Harvard Women’s Health Watch, says music therapy is a burgeoning field. “Research demonstrates that adding music therapy to treatment improves symptoms and social functioning among schizophrenics. Furthermore, music therapy has demonstrated efficacy as an independent treatment for reducing depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
“Music therapists know few boundaries. They may play music for you or with you, or even teach you how to play an instrument.”
Merz outlines several ways in which music therapy helps us cope, from restoring lost speech to aiding pain relief. “Music therapy can help people who are recovering from a stroke or traumatic brain injury that has damaged the left-brain region responsible for speech. Because singing ability originates in the right side of the brain, people can work around the injury to the left side of their brain by first singing their thoughts and then gradually dropping the melody.
“Listening to music reduces anxiety associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It can also quell nausea and vomiting for patients receiving chemotherapy. Music therapy has been tested in patients ranging from those with intense acute pain to those with chronic pain from arthritis.”
It also improves the quality of life for sufferers of dementia. “Because the ability to engage with music remains intact late into the disease process, music therapy can help to recall memories, reduce agitation, assist communication, and improve physical coordination.”
BeliefNet.com, 2020, “The healing power of music”, https://www.beliefnet.com/wellness/galleries/the-healing-power-of-music.aspx.
Beverly Merz, 5 November 2015, “Healing through music”, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/healing-through-music-201511058556.
Michael Friedman, 4 February 2014, “Does music have healing powers?”, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brick-brick/201402/does-music-have-healing-powers.