Music Therapy: Giving Clients a Voice in RecoveryPeople enrolled in substance use disorder treatment programs often struggle with psychological or emotional issues that prevent them from engaging fully in their own care. This lack of engagement can reduce the odds of successful treatment outcomes. Some rehab centers have sought to increase client engagement by adding music therapy to their list of available programs. When conducted by trained professionals, these programs can provide a variety of important treatment benefits.

What Is Music Therapy?

People from all walks of life instinctively turn to music at various times throughout their life. For some, listening to a favorite genre or artist provides a needed boost during moments of stress or unhappiness. Others turn to music to support an existing good mood. Still others listen to music for the sheer enjoyment of its intensity or beauty.

Music therapy[i] takes the basic love of music and structures it in ways that make it useful as a tool for helping people with mental or physical health problems. Specific forms of this therapy include:

  • Music-based games
  • Open-ended musical improvisations
  • Music-supported relaxation
  • Music-supported movement
  • Development of songwriting skills
  • Analysis of the content of existing songs, including both music and lyrics

When used as a form of treatment, music therapy usually plays a secondary role to medications and behavioral psychotherapy. Therapists who work in this field coordinate their efforts with doctors and other behavioral health professionals. This way, they make sure that the goals of music-related treatment coincide with the larger goals of each participant’s overall addiction treatment program.

General Benefits of Music Therapy

Since the 1990s, many studies have documented the usefulness of music therapy as a secondary form of mental health treatment. Verified benefits of this therapy include such things as:

  • A reduction in feelings of anxiety
  • A reduction in feelings of mental agitation
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Support of a positive self-image
  • Improvements in self-esteem
  • An improved ability to express emotion
  • An improved ability to tell one emotion from another
  • An increased willingness to speak to others
  • An increased willingness to take part in groups
  • An increased sense of personal motivation
  • An improved ability to form and maintain relationships
  • An increased ability to recognize situations that produce damaging stress
  • An increased ability to cope with highly stressful situations

Music therapy is effective in a range of treatment settings. It’s also useful for people from diverse backgrounds. Just as importantly, music therapy works equally well for musically inclined people and people with no previous experience expressing themselves through sound.

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Music’s Usefulness in Addiction Treatment

Rehab centers in the U.S. began incorporating music therapy into their treatment programs in the 1970s. There are two primary motivations for its use. First and foremost, people recovering from drug or alcohol problems[ii] are sometimes unable or unwilling to speak openly and discuss their desires and emotional states. Music therapy can help treatment participants overcome these obstacles by establishing another avenue for communication. In addition, the opportunity to take part in this form of therapy can improve overall motivation during the treatment process.

Certain forms of music therapy are associated with specific types of treatment benefits. For example, people who write songs or analyze the content of existing songs during therapy often experience an increase in positive emotional states. People who play their own music during therapy improve their ability to relax, and may also reduce their risks for experiencing relapses during treatment. People who take part in music-based treatment program often experience lower stress levels and a decrease in damaging, negative emotions.

Groups That Benefit Most from Music Therapy

People of all ages and backgrounds can benefit from music therapy. However, teenagers in treatment may receive the greatest benefit. This is because teens often listen to music for the same underlying reason they turn to alcohol or drugs: relief of emotional or psychological stress. With music therapy available, adolescents in treatment may experience a significant decline in their perceived need for substance use.

Music Therapy Combined with Art Therapy

Art therapy is a secondary treatment that includes creative outlets other than music. Like music therapy, this form of treatment has demonstrated usefulness for people enrolled in substance treatment. Studies show that art therapy courses mesh well with music therapy courses in drug and alcohol rehab programs.

Music Therapy Combined with Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is a frontline treatment for people recovering from all forms of substance abuse/addiction[iii]. The main goals of this treatment include:

  • Increasing understanding of the reasons why substance use problems occur
  • Increasing awareness of specific triggers that make an affected person more likely to consume drugs or alcohol
  • Improving the ability to resist substance use triggers
  • Creating healthy alternative responses that support ongoing sobriety in stressful situations

Evidence shows that involvement in music therapy can increase the effectiveness of behavioral therapy for people enrolled in rehab programs. This is especially true for people who receive a form of behavioral therapy called contingency management, or CM. Specific known benefits of CM include increased chances of remaining enrolled in treatment and an improved ability to avoid substance use.

Music Therapy at Transformations

At Transformations Treatment Center, we’re quite familiar with the many benefits of music therapy for people in substance treatment. We meet the needs of our clients with our SoundPath Recovery program, which incorporates music-based treatment into a comprehensive treatment program.

Participants in SoundPath begin by completing therapy assignments designed to fit their unique needs during recovery. These assignments include such things as writing songs or attending group therapy sessions. When all assigned responsibilities are fulfilled, clients gain access to our in-house music studio, where they can collaborate with our production staff and create their own recordings.

This approach allows us to maximize the benefits of music therapy as an expressive tool. It also improves the odds that program participants will successfully establish sober lifestyles that they can maintain when they return to their daily lives.

  1. American Music Therapy Association: Music Therapy Interventions in Trauma, Depression & Substance Abuse – Selected References and Key Findings
  2. Journal of Addiction Nursing: The Use of Art and Music Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment – A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Behavioral Therapies
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