JBMT is a team of Accredited Music Therapists (MTAs) who design treatment plans for people of all ages to foster change: boost mood, decrease stress, improve speech after injury, increase focus, develop learning, lessen anxiety, and recover lost memories.
When Statistics Canada shared their results from the Canadian Community Health Survey: Mental Health 2012 it fell in line with a recommendation by the Commission’s Mental Health Strategy for Canada which outlined the need to “improve mental health data collection, research, and knowledge exchange across Canada.” The survey results confirmed what many clinicians have been feeling – that mental health needs continue to go unmet.
Throughout my career as a music therapist I have worked in many settings – brain injury rehab, dementia care, palliative care, with children with cognitive disabilities, and with those facing high levels of stress. Although on the surface all of these populations are uniquely different, there is something that connects each of them. Regardless of age, ability, affluence or current situation, a person’s mental health matters in how well they feel about themselves and others. There is also strong evidence that our state of mind, our mindset, greatly influences our health – and our experience indicates that when the right music, at the right time, with the right supports can be incredibly efficient and effective for this purpose.
While every music therapy session will be different and there is no one prescription, music therapists address many mental health goals, including:
• decrease stress and/or anxiety
• develop focus and productivity skills
• participate in an inclusive social environment
• improve capacity for learning and attention
• boost confidence and feelings of self-worth
Here are two research-backed reasons I feel music therapy is a viable consideration for mental health and supporting a positive mindset:
1. Music therapists help people tune into their feelings fast.
One of the most interesting areas of music and science is how quickly music affects the brain’s emotional systems. Groundbreaking research published in Nature in 2014 found that music creates pleasurable emotions that light up the mesolimbic pathway, the reward centre of the brain that gives us uplifting feelings.
Music also produces responses from the amygdala, the area of the brain that modulates emotional networks, and the hippocampus, which centres on the emotions released during bonding and attachments.
What this confirms is that the brain’s response to music isn’t just embedded in the here and now; it’s also tuned into the past and enmeshed in our relationships. We know from many previous blogs that music has the capacity to trigger emotions and anchor feelings. The music therapist uses all this information when planning treatment for how best to use music in each session, in order to reach the patient’s desired goals.
2. Music therapists help patients find the right kind of music at the right time.
Using the patient’s preferences and their specific goals, music therapists incorporate a variety of tempos, tones, rhythms, melodies and lyrics that will support the client’s desired mood state.
For example, Dr. Bruce Perry suggests that “the only way to move from super-high anxiety states, to calmer more cognitive states, is rhythm,” he says. Music therapists apply this to keep steady rhythms that match the desired mood states of their clients.
In support of these findings a meta-analysis indicates that music therapy provides short-term beneficial effects for people with depression. The research found that music therapy added to treatment as usual (TAU) seems to improve depressive symptoms compared with TAU alone.
The conclusion for me is that ideally, every healthcare facility, employee assistance program, and learning centre would have a certified music therapist accessible to work with every person who seeks change and a different, desired mindset – regardless of age.
The sun has arrived – and all of a sudden we are getting that familiar feeling to move……and to help us move better we are reaching for the right music.
For those who exercise, music is often a way to distract oneself from the physical activity, and in some cases the pain they are enduring. Music has the capacity to lessen the consciousness of fatigue. However studies have examined that music has a much greater effect than just providing a distraction.
Sports psychologists have determined that music has a great impact on the performance level of an athlete. It has been suggested that the correct type of music can heighten an athlete’s performance by up to twenty percent. Dr. Costas Karageorghis, a sports psychologist from Brunel University, has done studies to see the results of synchronous music and asynchronous music.
Synchronous music = music that has a clear and steady beat
Asynchronous music = background music
Synchronous music has been shown to elevate a person’s performance whereas; asynchronous music shown to calm the nerves of athletes by as much as ten percent.
But this is not the only example of music’s ability to change our level of performance and productivity.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found employees with moderate sleep problems cost their companies about $2,500 in lost productivity a year. This study has also shown that listening to soft, slow (about 60 BPM) music like jazz or classical can improve the quality and duration of sleep, as well as improve functioning and creativity the next day.
One more example explores the understanding that music is well known to stimulate both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously (actually no other activity seems to do this better than music). Ronald A. Berk of Johns Hopkins University suggests music is effective in isolating the side of the brain you wish to develop. To improve the function of your left hemisphere, Berk recommends that you listen to unfamiliar, fast, up-tempo music in major keys. When we are working to stimulate and challenge the mind, new music that the brain needs to digest can be effective.
All these study are certainly interesting but one of the MOST important things we have learned about music here at JB Music Therapy, regardless of the tempo and familiarity – is that:
MUSIC THAT INSPIRES YOU = IMPROVES MOTIVATION = IMPROVED PERFORMANCE
Our suggestion we have is that each of us takes time this season to find the music that moves you – not just physically, but emotionally too. Let it be the support you need to do, whatever you are doing, just a little bit better.
Emily is 16 years old and over the past few months has disengaged from her peers and family members. It has come to the attention of her foster mom that she was being terribly bullied at school. The bully has since moved to a different educational system however, Emily has changed. She is quieter, less expressive and not wanting to leave the house.
GOAL – To help Emily feel more confident and safe, bringing her back to how she was feeling only a few short months ago.
WHAT A MUSIC THERAPIST KNOWS
That being bullied can have severe deep-seated emotions tied to it.
That once a persons confidence has cracked it takes time to rebuild.
That the right music – based techniques, at the right time, in the right way can help youth express themselves, promote a sense of safety and instil feelings of self-confidence and self-worth.
STRATEGIES FOR CONSIDERATION – As a relationship develops the music therapist will explore several music therapy interventions to support and strengthen Emily. These may include (but not be limited to):
Music-Based Counselling Questions – these questions will assist the music therapist in learning about Emily’s history – the good, the bad and the difficult while Emily engages the therapist on a topic that is familiar to her.
Songwriting – a forum for Emily to express her feelings and experiences – where she was, where she is, and where she would like to be.
Music Making – Emily explores a variety of instruments and percussion – giving an opportunity to learn something new, step out from where she is feeling stuck – all the while increasing opportunities for self-expression.
One weekend when I was 8 years old I woke up to a piano being carried into my living room by two burly men. Within weeks of the piano being delivered a man by the name of Mr. Nicholwitz arrived. He was introduced to me as my piano teacher. Mr. Nicholwitz would arrive at my home every Saturday morning donning a suit and a fedora hat. He looked like he had stepped off a train in the 1940s. He would slowly walk up our front driveway carrying a large folder under his arm with unruly loose leaf pages sticking out. When he sat down he wouldn’t say a word he would just open his folder and almost look surprised at the seemingly random song that he pulled out.
“Oh YES,” he would say.
“This is a good one. Play this one.”
Sometimes I would play through the entire piece, if I had played it before and sometimes I would play it and get stumped half way through. He would then say,
“Oh that was really good for now – we will come back to that song next time…here try this one, ” as he seemed to again randomly select a song from his folder.
He would never make me replay the part I was struggling with. He encouraged me that I would do it better next time. After three years of piano lessons he had me sight-reading the songs that he loved – from “The Entertainer” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to Beethoven and Bach. When I played “a particularly good one,” he would lean back in his chair, close his eyes and smile slightly. His enjoyment of the music made me want to keep playing.
Although not a very orthodox way of learning the piano (and perhaps why I am not an excellent piano player today….although I am a pretty good sight reader) Mr Nicholwitz did teach me three things that have I carried with me throughout my life.
a) There is a lot of great music out there and it is meant to be explored, enjoyed and shared
When searching for the right tune, Tyler Gray, co-author of the book The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel and Buy, suggests looking beyond the artist and title. “Instead of trying to think about what song you’d like to listen to, start by thinking about what kind of music best suits your situation,” he tells mental_floss. “We live in a pretty magical time when you can pretty much instantly access—through Spotify or Songza or iTunes—whatever music you want to hear. What’s the perfect music for your commute, your road trip, your work day, your date? Start there, and you’ll set yourself up for a better experience.”
b) Music is meant to have fun with
In contrast, listening to music you’ve never heard before also does good things for your brain. Last year, Canadian researchers demonstrated that listening to new tunes activates the brain’s reward center, which prompts the release of dopamine, a chemical also associated with feel-good activities. So, when it comes to music, do some exploring and reward your brain.
c) You don’t have to “do music” the way you think you are supposed to “do music” to have great outcomes (you don’t even have to DO music at all)
If you can’t or don’t want to learn an instrument, another good way to understand the layers of a song is to listen to each track individually. Musicians can do this naturally, according to Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. “A musician will be listening to the sound of his own instrument even though many other instruments are playing,” Kraus says. You can do this too with a little help from the Internet. Here’s a good YouTube playlist of isolated tracks found in popular songs. Another resource is MultitrackMaster.com, which has a good selection.
A study published by Barry Bittman, MD found that group drumming session alters neuroendocrine and immunologic measurements in the participants – this means a boost to your immune system. Drumming was chosen for this study because percussion activities can be an inclusive exercise that requires little musical training or experience.
During small group instrument improvisation sessions, such as at MEMORY PLUS through Alberta Health Services and FUNDRUM at the JB Music Therapy Centre – music therapists ensure every group member receives the personalized care they require to ensure the participant reaches their desired goals – improved mood, decreased stress, gross motor development, stroke rehabilitation or lessening social anxiety.
There is a secondary benefit to all these goals – and that is that drumming may just help you stay a bit healthier this winter season. Dr. Bittman found that group drumming strengthened the immune system by increasing Natural Killer (NK) cell activity. It also showed less human stress response on the genomic level, not just reducing but reversing 19 genetic switches that turn on the stress response believed responsible in the development of common diseases.
Keep in mind that although music can certainly be made and listened to alone, when used within a music therapy group context, like group improvisation, it can also help improve feelings of social bonding. Drumming also increases contact, coordination, and cooperation with others.
According to researchers, when we try to synch with others musically we tend to feel more connected and uplifted towards those people. Coordinating movement, such as beating a drum, shaking percussion instruments, or even just tapping our toes with another person releases endorphins in the brain that trigger warm and positive feelings.