The Healing Power of Music

In our society today, mental health has become an increasingly trending topic as many are starting to realize the importance of paying attention to their emotional and mental well-being. This new-founded awareness, however, is not shared equally amongst the various communities in Chicago, in our nation, and in the world. For many minority communities in our country, there is a lot of stigma placed on the idea of going to a therapist to work through mental health concerns, and this, along with many other social factors has contributed to the disparities that we see today in who is seeking treatment.

One thing that remains true despite this fact however, is that many of these communities experience distressing emotions and thoughts that are unfortunately internalized by those who do not address them. While therapy may not be the first line of defense for various minority communities, many people have long been able to heal or soothe their pain through a universal form of communication: Music. From Yo-Yo Ma expressing the loss of a close loved one through a somber rendition of Gabriel Fauré’s Elegie, to Nipsey Hussle detailing the harsh realities of growing up in the impoverished and often-overlooked Crenshaw, LA; musicians have always expressed their inner emotional states and cultivated massive followings of people who were able to relate to those emotions.

In their 2018 article on music therapy, trauma, and PTSD, Nora Landis-Shack and associates evaluated the current literature on music therapy as a tool for addressing symptoms of PTSD. PTSD symptoms include but are not limited to: distressing memory intrusions, avoidance, emotional disturbance, and hyperarousal. At the end of their meta-analysis, the authors found that “music, when used as a therapeutic tool via music therapy, may address and reduce prominent symptoms of posttraumatic stress.” While doing this, it may also help foster resilience and be used as a coping mechanism for traumatized people.

It is weird to think that something as common as music can be so effective in alleviating someone’s physical and psychological symptoms of distress, but we now have evidence to support the true healing properties of music. I myself, am a cellist and have truly felt the difference that having music as a tool of expression has made in my life. There have been days where I have felt very sad or nervous about something, and I have always found that either listening to, or making music never fails to lighten my mood. For me, it is about the expression, and especially when I am listening to music, it is about being able to feel the artist’s soul in their voice or playing. I believe that in this shared mutual connection between the artist and the listener, lays the foundations to begin the process of healing; similar to rapport-building in a therapeutic relationship. Music also has a unique and powerful ability to bring so many different types of people together in a way that is peaceful and non-threatening way, for the most part. Music festivals are a huge part of our culture, from Woodstock back in the 60s to current festivals such as AfroPunk and Lollapalooza. Some people do attend festivals for the wrong reasons, however a majority of people in attendance are there to enjoy music from their favorite artists and to share the vibes and experience with others. I believe that it can be very healing and therapeutic to express yourself and share a musical connection with others in a public place.

Music has, is, and will always be a large part of society in many different parts of the world. It is a commodity that is becoming increasingly more accessible to many different groups of people and it is something that has the power to bring people together. We also have found evidence to support the efficacy of it’s use in therapy for traumatized individuals. In a society where many people are justifiably weary of seeking treatment for their emotional and psychological pain, music may be a great tool that we can utilize to help bridge the divide between marginalized communities and the mental health community.

Reference Landis-Shack, N., Heinz, A. J., & Bonn-Miller, M. O. (2017). Music Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress in Adults: A Theoretical Review. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind & Brain, 27(4), 335–342.