How music therapy can impact mental health

Róisín Phelan

Music has been proven to have a calming effect on the brain.

It’s a friday night, a couple dozen people are in a dark, clammy room, most with a drink in hand and all swaying to a familiar beat.

The live band perched on a shelf of a stage kick start their set with a crowd favourite. The atmosphere lifts through the roof immediately, drinks are put to the side, friends drag each other to the front and the dancefloor fills. This single piece of music, just a song written by a few friends, performed just for the fun of it, had the ability to lift the energy of every single person in that room. The impact and power it had was clear to see.

Music in all its countless genres and styles has transcended centuries of life on this planet and has displayed its power to influence and move people on a daily basis. According to a study by Nusbaum and Silvia entitled Personality and the Experience of Chills From Music, 90% of people have felt chills going down their spine when listening to music.

Can this power do more than just superficially lighten the mood, can it change someone’s life and really impact their happiness and mental health?

According to a study by the College of Nursing at Kaohsiung Medical University of Taiwan, music therapy has been found to reduce psychological stress, and separate research reviewing 23 studies covering almost 1,500 patients found that listening to music reduced heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety in heart disease patients.

With research such as this proving that there is a correlation between certain types of music and a reduction in stress, many organisations have begun to offer music therapy to individuals suffering from mental health issues as an alternative option for treatment.

One of the leading organisations offering music therapy in Ireland is Music Therapy Ireland. First established in Limerick in 2010, the organisation provides music therapy to a variety of “vulnerable populations that need additional support” such as people with  dementia, emotional and behavioural conditions, autism, ADHD and brain injuries.

Music Therapy Ireland believe that music can act as an appropriate intervention for those who are finding it difficult to cope within their lives.

They have also begun to lead the way by offering their services to those who are affected by a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, impulse control and ​​​​​​​​​​addiction disorders.​

The music therapy can take place one on one or in group sessions and can help to “restore some equilibrium” in the lives of those affected by a mental health condition.

One study carried out in 2013 entitled ‘The effect of music on the human stress response’ found that music does provide a calming and ‘equilibrium’ effect.

In the study, 60 female volunteers took part in stress tests. Some of these volunteers were made listening to relaxing music, such as an acoustic instrumental before the test. The study then saw that the volunteers who had listened to this music performed better than those who hadn’t.

Cormac Timlin, is a second year DCU student who says music is a big part of his life and his happiness. When he’s having a bad day, his solution is to put on upbeat “happy music”.

“I put on a song and it’s maybe something like three minutes but at least in the duration of the song I’m forgetting about whatever and having a good time.”

Timlin said that he finds it hard to talk about how he feels, but being able to sing and listen to music helps him to express his emotions.

“I know what I want to say in my head but I just wouldn’t say it because I would be too embarrassed to say it… singing helps me to express emotions without having to talk about it because obviously that’s a problem,” said Timlin.

For this reason, he thinks music therapy could be beneficial to both him and people in a similar situation to him.

Diane Martin, a student at BIMM spoke to The College View about her desire to study Music Therapy in the hopes of administering it in her future.

She believes that “it can help many people”.

“It’s for people struggling with mental, physical, physiological problems, anything really. If you spend some time with them, listening to their favourite songs, singing some songs or helping them write a song it takes their mind off the pain and suffering for just a little while and are happy.”

Martin said that it is the boost in happiness and energy that patients feel after music therapy that allows individuals with both mental and physical conditions to relax and heal.

While music therapy has not overtaken conventional methods of treating mental health conditions it is becoming an alternative option which people are both intrigued by and willing to try. With promising results thus far, music therapy is an option that the public of Irish are beginning to trust and rely on.

Róisín Phelan

Image Credit: Pexel