Music therapy is a form of creative therapy used by mental health professionals. Music therapists can help their clients treat substance use issues, mental health issues, and neurological problems. It’s been well-established that music therapy works, but the research into why is more recent. How does music therapy stimulate the brain and neurotransmitters?
Music therapists are licensed professionals who have a degree specifically in music therapy. This means that they’ve studied the technique of music, studied mental health, studied basic neurology, and worked with clients prior to obtaining their certification.
The field of music therapy is incredibly varied. Several types of music therapy are used. Different clients may benefit from different options depending on their needs.
Some of the things music therapy sessions might involve include:
- Talking while relaxing music plays
- Drawing while emotional music plays
- Using instruments to make music as a form of self-expression
- Describing images that the client thinks of when listening to music
Ultimately, the goal of music therapy is to foster a deeper connection with the self. From there, the goal is to allow people to express themselves, which is particularly vital for people who struggle with verbal communication.
Every form of music therapy has measurable benefits for a client’s recovery. But the exact effects on the brain haven’t been explored until recently. Different studies have been done to help understand how different forms of music therapy can stimulate the brain.
How Does Music Therapy Stimulate the Brain and Neurotransmitters?
When music therapists talk about their work, they discuss the power of music on healing. A breakthrough in music therapy can give a client healthy coping mechanisms while strengthening the connections between the therapist and client.
Preliminary research indicates that clients and their therapists may be “in sync” on a neurological level as well as an emotional one. In one study of a therapist and their client, researchers used an EEG to map brain waves. The scan clearly showed when the client began feeling positive emotions, and the therapist’s scan showed the same change within seconds.
Music therapy isn’t just for psychological health issues, either. Studies have shown that music therapy can aid after traumatic brain injuries, helping clients to:
- Restore cognitive function
- Get back in touch with their sensory capabilities
- Practice their fine motor skills
Proven Benefits of Music Therapy
Besides the connection between client and therapist, there are other neurological benefits to music therapy. Music has been proven to affect multiple parts of the brain. Studies indicate that humans have been making music for about as long as we’ve existed.
In a healthy person, music stimulates the brain and motivates us to:
- Relax and let stress go
- Move around and enjoy feeling our bodies
- Use our voices to sing
- Feel and process emotions
In people with mental health issues, music can be a vital means of self-expression and emotional processing.
Music can stimulate the portion of the brain that is responsible for addictive behaviors. The right music can produce a natural “high” that helps people feel at peace in their lives.
Learning how to play an instrument also has proven benefits. It helps you with motor skills, physical memory, and cognition. It also gives you a creative outlet that can be vital when recovering.
Specific Parts of the Brain Impacted
Music has an effect on these parts of the brain:
- The frontal lobe, where most cognitive processing happens
- The temporal lobe, which is responsible for auditory processing
- The Broca’s area, which allows speech and singing
- The Wernicke’s area, which comprehends language and analyzes lyrics
- The occipital lobe, which musicians often use to visualize a score as they listen
- The cerebellum, which stores your reflexive memory and helps you remember how to play instruments
- The nucleus accumbens, which produces a “high” when exposed to good music
- The amygdala, which is responsible for emotional processing
- The hippocampus, which regulates memory and emotional responses
- The hypothalamus, responsible for regulating the body’s physical state
- The corpus callosum, which coordinates communication between areas of the brain
- The putamen, responsible for regulating coordination and processing musical rhythm
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