Thursday, March 13, 2014

Music Therapy in Mental Health

To the selfless and generous people that give us hope in humanity, particularly to Claire

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears - it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more - it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.”
― Oliver Sacks

Suffering from any kind of mental trauma or illness is an often distressing and daunting experience. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and OCD can sometimes be lifelong that they require time and patience to overcome, as sufferers will face many ups and downs, as the temptation to relapse into old habits can present themselves at any time. 

Conditions involving severe mental health issues and depression can be complex to treat and every patient will have different needs and goals to meet. A GP or doctor will often be the first point-of-call once the decision to address a specific type of mental illness has been made, but the options available to anyone wanting to recover from anxiety or depression are multifarious. Alongside conventional talking therapies and drug treatments, there are other ways and means of helping people overcome debilitating and chronic mental issues which can feel overwhelming. One of these is Music Therapy.

Music Therapy
It is not all about trips to see doctors and psychiatrists, hospitals and sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings during group sessions, while recovering these days. Creative therapies are proving themselves to be an equally effective form of treatment. The advice given in the DrugAbuse website is that the choice of treatment is important to the recovery process of an individual, whatever the type of mental illness they suffer from is. Choosing the right program should depend entirely on the person’s needs. Music therapy creates sensorimotor responses from the body. This means that both the patient’s sensory and motor capabilities are active at the same time, making it possible to tailor the treatment for each human being based on the depression and anxiety stages the patient is going trough.

Techniques such as this can also be useful for treating people who suffer from addictions, just as they can be used to treat people with other mental conditions. The most extreme end of the spectrum will see a client who will be anxious, easily upset and maybe prone to violent outbursts. Playing a series of compositions at a slow tempo with mellow characteristics, such as soft vibrations, will alter the state of the patient’s autonomic nervous system.

The ANS is a form of control system the body uses to heighten certain feelings (such as anger) as it affects a person’s heart rate, and controlling these nervous feelings; by creating a safe and secure environment the patient relaxes, like when breathing in a paper bag during a panic attack.

Using music therapy, it is possible to teach people to control anxiety. The treatment is broad and does not just involve listening exercises, but also practical sessions where the patient will be involved in playing instruments, combining music with writing and physical exercise.

“There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals... We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as "tick-tock, tick-tock" - even though it is actually "tick tick, tick tick.” 

Consider the above quote too. There is something to be said for the calming, distracting, repetitive action of intoning the same note over and over again, continually repeating the same sounds and phrases, or for instance, if you were playing an instrument such as the guitar, learning to play a riff, or pick – starting off slowly and first, then learning to play it faster over time. The continued action of fingers on string, coupled with the brain’s keen-ness for repetition can be very calming and distracting.

Background Research
Over the past decade there has been several attempts to understand why music therapy provides such effective results. A 2003 report, looks into the effect that drumming groups can have on an addict’s recovery process. 

The report found that drumming, as an activity, was a successful form of therapy due to the repetition involved. Concluding, drumming puts the mind into a state of relaxation, enhancing synchronization between the brain and body, putting the patient into a meditative-like state, as they concentrate solely on the task. Focusing attention on sensorimotor treatment, it's also important to provide an overall balance, taking into consideration all aspects, mentally and physically, of the patients’ well-being, while providing this kind of treatment. Enhancing the understanding of the cognitive and emotional process, is key for the patient's mental healing.