Using Music Therapy In Addiction Treatment

Learning to play the guitar. Music education and extra-curricular lessons.

Music connects people from every corner of the world regardless of dialect, religion, gender or race. The ability to unify people across cultures and ideologies makes music the only true universal language, and an impressive therapy tool.

“Therapeutically, music is expressive, but it’s also so much more than that,” starts Rodney Harrison, case manager and music program coordinator at The Treehouse, Addiction Campuses‘ Texas facility. “It’s about helping people get back in touch with themselves and others.”

Due to its powerful ability to connect and inspire people from all walks of life, using music therapy as a tool in addiction treatment and recovery has become increasingly popular.

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Music Therapy Defined

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music to foster connections, find healing and accomplish therapeutic goals. As one of the expressive therapies, music therapy is a process that uses all facets of music in order to help clients grow. It’s more than just listening to songs or creating sound; music therapy pushes clients to connect with music physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually to create real change.

“Music therapy is really about taking clients back to the place where they first fell in love with music,” explains Rodney. “Let’s go back to that point and work our way forward in a more positive way.”

There are two different forms of music therapy- active and passive. In active music therapy, clients actively participate in creating music with instruments, their voice or other objects. Passive music therapy usually consists of clients doing a relaxing activity while listening to music. Both forms have been shown to reduce heart rate and improve mental wellbeing in clients.

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding music therapy is that clients must have musical talent to participate, but this is not the case. Anyone can enjoy the benefits of music therapy regardless of musical ability, or lack thereof.

“Not everyone can sing. Not everyone can play drums. Not everyone can play the guitar. Not everyone is musically inclined,” starts Rodney. “However, everyone loves music. It is universal, and it touches everyone regardless of ability.”

Benefits Of Music Therapy In Addiction Treatment

Music has been around for centuries. An article published in Spirituality and Health suggests that music has withstood the test of time due to the various positive influences it has on those who perform or listen to music.

The benefits of music therapy include:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Alleviated symptoms of depression
  • Increased natural endorphins
  • Brain stimulation
  • Promoted self-awareness
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Helping clients to identify different emotions
  • Mood boosts
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Lowered blood pressure

Rodney sees first hand the effect that music therapy has on this clients. “Music is a sensitive thing. It’s really hard to just sing on the spot,” he explains. “It’s been incredible to see some of the clients go from not wanting to sing ever, to being able to perform for graduations here. It’s been awesome to see the progression.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report in 2004 based on 600 studies that concluded that manipulated sound, like music, can have a dramatic effect on how fast and how well patients recover. Since then, hospitals and addiction treatment centers have been incorporating more music based groups into their recovery programs.

At The Treehouse, clients are encouraged to participate in music therapy groups regardless of their musical ability. For the non-musicians, Rodney runs lyrical analysis groups, songwriting groups and drum circles because, “everyone can hit a drum, even if it’s not with a good rhythm.” In the future, Rodney is looking to host more songwriting and performance groups for clients that are musicians in order to guide them back to their craft.

“Music therapy allows clients to get back in touch with something that they love but strayed away from during active addiction,” starts Rodney. “It also helps clients get back in touch with their humanity. They’re able to be themselves and not worry about anyone judging them outside of here.”

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How Is Music Therapy Used In Addiction Treatment And Recovery?

Addiction is a disease of isolation. It forces those struggling into hiding in order to feed their disease. Music, on the other hand, encourages listeners to connect with others, whether it be the person they’re performing with or the person they’re listening to.

“At the beginning of each group, I always ask three questions: ‘What was your first concert?’, ‘What was your favorite concert?’ and ‘What is your most memorable music experience?’,” says Rodney. “Usually you’ll find some sort of commonality with those three questions and it will start a conversation that leads to a positive connection. I start to see clients come out of their shell around week three,” he adds.

Those struggling with addiction have often spent years masking their emotions with drugs or alcohol. Due to this, Rodney sees clients struggling to recognize their negative emotions and unable to understand where they stemmed from. Even more so than identifying their feelings, clients have trouble learning to cope with these negative emotions without the assistance of drugs or alcohol. This is where music comes in.

“With the lyrical analysis groups, I just want people to come and listen and tell me how the song impacts them,” says Rodney. “Give me a song that changed your life and from that point, let’s start to understand what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it.”

The power of music doesn’t just end after music therapy though. The unifying nature of music continues throughout every aspect of The Treehouse’s addiction treatment program.

“Clients will bring their guitar to the pond or the fire pit. They’ll just start playing a song, and other clients will begin singing along,” he explains. “Just that moment brings our clients together.”

As someone who witnesses the healing power of music each time he runs a music therapy session, Rodney encourages everyone to incorporate music into their addiction treatment plan. It’s not just his passion, but his calling.

“My life’s journey was trying to figure out how to help people and music at the same time,” he says, “and I think I’ve been given a really great opportunity to take this and turn it into a positive thing.”

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