When we’re trying to beat stress or depression, we know intuitively that music can both soothe us, and get us moving again. Music therapy as a healing technique takes our innate connection to music, and ramps it up another notch.
The idea of music therapy began as a method to heal soldiers with brain injuries as they returned from World War II. Language skills and music abilities, doctors learned, use opposite sides of the brain. Injured individuals who had lost the ability to speak were often still able to react, and even communicate, through music. In turn, the use of the music essentially rewired the language side of their brains.
Music gives order to jumbled thoughts.
More recent research has shown music can help stress and depression, in much the same way it heals physical damage to the brain. Our minds crave order, whether we are learning to create speech or trying to silence a thousand competing thoughts.
Our brains respond instinctively to music with a strict ordered structure, and repetitive phrasing. Baroque music, for example, is usually cited as the best to listen to when dealing with analytical problems or critical thinking. I can testify that Mozart is probably all that got me through Statistics 101.
“Songs sung blue.”
When we are depressed, we can’t always express or even define what we are feeling. That’s where minor chords come in. People have been singing out their blues since time began, and we eventually feel better when we do.
When we suffer from depression or are under a lot of stress, the language side of our brains go into a sort of hyper drive. Thoughts run amok, or replay negative messages again and again. Working on the other side of our brains, music can bypass our thinking, and go more directly to evoking a healthier emotional response.
Gabrielle Giffords and the power of a song.
If there was ever someone to show us the power of music therapy, it is former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. In January 2011 Giffords was critically injured from a gunshot to the head. Her recovery was arduous, and she was unable to speak. But by March, ABC News reported that she had had a remarkable change. She had started to sing.
Just short passages at first…a Happy Birthday to her husband, and the refrain from American Pie. In time, her doctors said, the songs essentially created new pathways in her brain, giving her back her ability to speak.
If music therapy can heal such extreme physical brain damage, there is no reason not to believe it can’t help heal a brain that is anxious or depressed.
Documented results show music therapy works.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, there are documented research results that music therapy has been shown to successfully treat strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, stress, and pain management. In addition, patients using music therapy experienced reduced anxiety, less muscle pain, and an overall improvement in their self image and self esteem.
Along with meditation, healthy eating and exercise, music therapy can add one more method to help you defeat depression and reduce your stress. If you would like to learn more about music therapy, or find a therapist, check out the American Music Therapy Association website, at http://www.musictherapy.org/.
Songs Sung Blue, (1972), words and music by Neil Diamond.
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