Healing Your Brain with Music

I’ve read the research and I’ve been practicing for years now but still I am amazed when I see just how profound the effect of music is on the brain. During neurotherapy sessions I frequently play music for the clients to speed along the healing process. In this blog I’m going to discuss how music can help improve mood and functioning.

A lot of research has been done on music and how it effects the brain. My earliest personal memory of experience with using music for healing is from when I was an undergrad psychology major and one of my professors was talking to my class about his collaboration with a musicologist to help speed up the awakening on patients in comas. The research has continued since the mid 1990s and up until today. Lundquist et al. determined in 2009 that music can evoke very strong feelings (positive and negative) that often cause physiological changes. In 2005 researchers (Hays and Minichiello) found that music contributes to positive self-esteem, feelings of competence and independence, and diminishing feelings of isolation in the elderly. In 2016 Ramirez et al. studied the treatment of depression in the elderly population using musical neurofeedback. Their study indicated that musical neurofeedback produced a significant reduction in depressive symptoms in their test subjects. Recently neuroscientists of Mindlab International in the UK have developed a list of ten songs everyone should play for improved brain health. They found that listening to one song in particular, Weightless by Marconi Union resulted in a 65% decrease in overall anxiety and 35% reduction in usual resting rates for vital signs. This song is so effective I find that I need to caution anyone reading this article to please never play it while driving or operating machinery because it can cause drowsiness.

Frequently when I’m conducting a neurotherapy session I will try out various pieces of music and watch how it effects the patient’s brain. I make note of the songs that induce the most positive activity and make a play list for them to use during their sessions. There are certain types of music that are generally known to have certain desired effects such as Weightless, but I have found that each person’s brain is so uniquely reactive and that even if the person doesn’t particularly like the song I’m playing during the therapy their brain can and will react to it.

I can not stress enough the importance of paying attention to the music you are drawn to when you are experiencing different moods. The mind and the rest of the body react to it in a very intense way. Did you know your heart beat will match the beat of the music you have playing in your vicinity? Very often when counseling patients with depression I tell them that the prescription is to do the opposite of what the depression is telling them they want to do. For example: if someone wants to stay in all day I tell them they have to go out. When you find that you are upset or unhappy you might be drawn to melancholy or even angry music but my advice is to fight that urge and instead to go with something upbeat and joyful.

Happy Healing Happy Listening!

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