Music Therapy and Its Connection with Mindfulness

music therapy

Music therapy is the most ancient and natural form of fixing emotional states, which many people use either consciously or not in order to remove the accumulated mental stress, calm down, and focus. The fact that music can affect human bodies is obvious to anyone; mothers sing lullabies to their children, so the children receive positive musical vibrations from the very beginnings of their lives. Modern medicine has observed music’s influence on a person’s body and emotions for a long time, and eventually a method of musical treatment appeared. Thus, music therapy was born. However, music therapy has existed for almost as long as people and civilization have. Practically everything in nature is subject to specific internal rhythms, and only the human psyche is not rhythmic. Humanity discovered music to live easier and to receive the rhythm and harmony in their mental life. This paper will discuss music’s influence on people’s lives and explain the nature and importance of music therapy, as well as analyze its connection to mindfulness.

In the first chapter of the book, Handbook of Neurologic Music Therapy, Michael Thaut defines music therapy as a psychotherapeutic method, based on the healing effects of music on the psychological state of a person. They state that music’s influence comes from the social and emotional role it plays in a person’s life. The researchers also mention the so-called “neurologic music therapy,” defining it as “the therapeutic application of music to cognitive, affective, sensory, language, and motor dysfunctions due to disease or injury to the human nervous system” (Thaut 15).

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Antique healers claimed that two forces circulated in the human body– the electromagnetic waves and the energy flow. Together they created a kind of a chord that could be controlled by properly chosen music. In Europe, music therapy was officially recognized in the nineteenth century, when it began to be used in advanced clinicians’ practice. The blossoming of music therapy falls on the twentieth century. In 1961, the first program of music therapy developed in England, and fifteen years later, a center for music therapy opened there. In Germany, the Music Therapy Institute was founded in 1985, but physicians started working with music seriously in 1978. The University Clinic of Munich added daily listening to Beethoven and Mozart to the medical treatment of patients with diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. In most cases, that leads to a significant improvement of the condition and more rapidly scarring ulcers. In France, in the National Institute of Blood Transfusion, the only music that plays during surgeries is selected in strict accordance to its physiological effects on the body, the individual characteristics of a person, and the nature of the disease. In the Netherlands, doctors use music at cardiovascular diseases’ clinics. In Australia, it is used for the treatment of those who suffer from pain in the joints and spine (Goodman 205). As one may notice, music therapy is widely used for healing not only the psychological, but also physical health issues.

Today, music therapy is used in almost all Western European countries. For example, in a Swedish school, the founder of which is Aleks Pontvik, the starting point of music therapy is the concept of psycho-resonance (Campbell 107). According to this concept, the deep layers of human consciousness are able to resonate with harmonic sounds and, thus, be detected out to analyze and understand. Based on Jung’s concepts of “collective unconscious” and “archetype,” Pontvik worked out an idea on how to reach the deep layers of the unconscious through a proportional ratio of sounds, creating an effect of overtones (Campbell 108). In the American musical direction of psychotherapy, the therapeutic effect is based on the ideas of traditional psychoanalysis. In an effort to achieve patient’s remembrance of emotionally injuring situations during the session, a therapist tries to facilitate the patient’s condition by using specific music.  The selection of appropriate music has a crucial meaning, as it is able to help the patient in building experience and imaginative associations, the subsequent analysis of which could ascertain the nature of the repressed conflict. Therefore, American music therapists developed an extensive catalog of medical musical works, including music of different genres and styles, but properly classified them by impact direction (Campbell 109).

The connection between music therapy and mindfulness is very strong. According to Ronald Siegel, mindfulness is about realizing the current moment, being aware of one’s emotions and thoughts, accepting oneself, not judging and splitting things into the opposites of good and bad (Siegel 26). For a long time, mindfulness was more typical in Eastern culture, but with the popularization of Zen, meditation, and yoga practices, it started penetrating Western culture too. Some researchers call it “the presence of heart” (Siegel 29) and are convinced that it can be reached not only through meditation, but by gradual work – breathing correctly, eating properly, and realizing one’s thoughts and emotions. It is important to notice that music therapy is used for the same goals. Mindfulness, as well as music therapy, has an influence on a person’s mind. By choosing the right music, a person can distract themselves from the everyday routine and clear their mind. If there will be anything coming to mind, the person needs to name it and let go. Spiritual music or the harmonic sounds of nature (whales’ singing, sound of the sea or the rain, birds’ tweeting) would be the best for this. In this process, a therapist’s role is mainly supportive. Both music therapy and mindfulness practices can be done on one’s own. They both need constant practice and some efforts from the person. In turn, they provide the person with precious inner peace. It is necessary to note that mindfulness practices of music therapy need a right approach, for example, correct breathing, a comfortable place for relaxing, absence of disturbing factors, etc.

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Music therapy is applicable to all regardless of age, health, or musical abilities. It helps people with mental or physical disabilities, neurological problems, and the elderly to experience problems of acute or chronic diseases. Music therapy helps relieve the pain and reduce nervous tension. It works effectively on children and adults who became victims of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse (Thaut 13). Same happens with mindfulness practices, as they can be performed by any person who wants to learn better concentration and self-analysis.

The influence of music plays a crucial role in all emotional reactions. According to  modern concepts, the formation of integral behavioral reactions to various external stimuli, including music, is performed by a complex functional system, in particular, on the basis of specific neurochemical mechanisms of subcortical that, due to the chemical affinity, selectively mobilize the relevant formations of the brain to perform specific purposeful activities (Wigram and De Backer 14).

During music therapy sessions, full confidence and creative relaxation are being set up. Trust and communication between the patient and the doctor are necessary in order for the treatment process to succeed. In this treatment, the development of internal human resources is the key point. Music therapists do not annoy patients with questions about grief or illness. The main thing is to enter into a musical contact with the patient’s emotions and feelings. Often, it is music that helps people understand their inner problem better or even gives them strength to fight disease. Combining the practice of mindfulness and proper music therapy, a person can enjoy the world around, as well as reach inner harmony and better understanding.

Suzanne Hanser in her book Integrative Health Through Music Therapy. Accompanying the Journey from Illness to Wellness” offers to divide music into several playlists, depending on the desired result. For example, the music that focuses attention, manages pain, and offers the best relief from depression should, in her mind, be energizing music, while relaxing tracks can release anxiety (Hanser 114). Brain stimulation with classical music activates the communication between nerve cells and prevents them from further degradation. In regard to the issue of mindfulness, it is necessary to say that autistic people, especially children, have difficulties with focusing their attention. One of the main problems when establishing cooperation with an autistic child is the absence of their attention. Specially selected music attracts attention and organizes the relative stability of the child’s perception of the process. Today, when a contemporary person remains in a constant state of stress, need to process large amounts information, do and constant mental work, the best option is to listen to some classical music in order to receive relaxation.

Still, when choosing music, one needs to be very careful, as it may both help and harm. An analysis of the different types of musical impact (exposure time from thirty minutes to one hour) showed that only sacred music makes one feel universally good, while classical music does so selectively. Pop, rock, and techno  have a negative impact on a person’s physical and psychological health. A number of studies have shown that seven or ten-hour-long acoustic sessions, which are conducted every three days, may help to optimize brain function, e.g. improve memory, reduce seizures, normalize sleep, increase lactation for nursing mothers, and even extend the hearing range in hopeless cases (Campbell 109).

To use the music for the development of the deep self, it is necessary to learn a new way of listening to the music, which is alien to the Western culture. As was mentioned above, Western culture only starts to learn about mindfulness and how to become aware of the present moment. In the West, people’s minds are often unfocused, and it is common to use music as a background sound, which bears almost no emotional burden. Typical examples include the use of popular music at receptions, by brands, or playing in shops, stores, and work areas.  A completely different approach characterizes a more sophisticated audience that is disciplined, intellectualized, and listening to music in concert halls. However, all the attention of such events’ participants is usually directed outwards, and the experience lacks the most important component – a long, directional look inside oneself (Hanser 55).

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Practicing mindfulness isn’t the answer to all the problems, but its development could help a lot of people. This branch is still to be properly researched, while the new branches of mindfulness techniques cultivation keep appearing. Researchers and scientists start to combine mindfulness with music therapy, cognitive psychology and therapy, etc. Mindfulness is being offered to expecting parents, children at schools, and the universities’ programs. Music therapists do not adopt the mindfulness approach, combining spiritual music with the philosophical, practically Buddhist, ideas and practices. It can be said that the mindfulness approach in music therapy will definitely have a way to develop. For example, it can be used for mothers, who are waiting for their babies to be born. It is an important practice, helping the mother to keep her health and mind in order, as well as focus on the harmonic development of her child. It can be also used for helping autistic people manage their attention issues. One more interesting way of leaving this sphere is meditations. Today, more and more people lead a healthy way of life, and taking care of one’s body and spirit with the help of psychological techniques and music therapy could be a pleasant and interesting solution.

Conclusion

In conclusion, music has always been a remedy for people, giving them psychological relief and comfort, and being able to make them physically feel better. This influence is being studied, and new approaches in the music therapy are constantly discovered. As it was mentioned above, music therapy provides a strong influence on a person’s feelings and is able to form psycho-emotional conditions. Mindfulness is a relatively new approach to seeing the world around more clearly. During these therapies, there is a constant flow of energy inside a person’s body until it reaches harmony. Music therapy leads a person to a better understanding of these harmonic forces that seamlessly guide the process of achieving it, as does the mindfulness practice. During music therapy, a person is taught and directed not by the rules and laws, but by the bodily reality, which music returns back to the long forgotten very first feelings after birth. By choosing correct music, a person can reach maximum mindfulness, concentrating, relaxing, falling in love with the world around, and realizing what can be positively changed to improve life.

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