Harnessing the power of music to heal

Ask anyone you know about their favorite songs, and they will agree that Music is powerful, it has the ability to transform or enhance your mood, among many other benefits. Listening to, singing along with, or creating music can uplift you, make you feel happy or sad, and allows you an emotional outlet. The right song can bring back powerful memories of people or events, and can even make you cry tears of joy, or weep with sadness because of the memories or feelings it triggers. 

Music with stronger beats and faster tempos stimulate your mind to bring about concentration and alert thinking. Slower music has a different calming effect, slowing your breathing and heart rate, bringing about an almost meditative state, Because individuals struggling with substance abuse problems are often using drugs and alcohol to cope with trauma of some kind, music therapy can be particularly useful in helping them acknowledge and process negative emotions in a healthy way. Music therapy has shown positive results in treating individuals who are survivors of violence and programs such as these are specifically designed to help survivors process the traumatic experience, reduce the stress associated with it, improve coping mechanisms, and relax.

Many individuals with substance misuse problems also suffer from depression, which should be addressed alongside the addiction for effective treatment. Although several other types of therapies may also help treat depression, music therapy has also been used to improve the mental health of people with depression. Residents enrolled in the Music Therapy program at Together We Can, connect with each other and their feelings through listening, the satisfying aesthetic of creating music together, and express themselves through creativity.

Julian Harmel, a Together We Can alumnus turned staff member at our Main Center program, is currently enrolled in school and helps bring Music Therapy to our residents. We asked him about how music helped him through his recovery journey, and how it inspired him to help others. 

“When I arrived at treatment 5 years ago I had great difficulty connecting with others around me. That’s pretty detrimental to recovery considering the notion that “the opposite of addiction is connection.” Years of drinking and isolation had left me in a state of anhedonia, unable to express myself. It wasn’t until I started attending some of the music programs and open mic nights at twc that I could finally communicate my emotions to the outside world, at which point the floodgates opened and paved the way back to a stable and more balanced state. I knew that I had to share this gift with others. I eventually enrolled in a bachelor of music therapy, which I am now close to halfway complete. If I can help one person through music the way that it helped me, all of this hard work will have been worth it and everyone after that will be a much welcomed bonus.”

Blair, another alumnus of Together We Can writes how music helped shape his life, and his path as he recently graduated from school in Audio Engineering and Music Production. “For me, music has always been therapeutic. Looking back to when I was younger, before digital music was what it came to be in the early 2000’s, I had a cd player at my side at all times with an album I was really into at the time. It was my escape from the depression and anger I would go through on a day to day basis. Obviously access to music grew and I had an ever greater escape, being able to expand my horizons with artists and genres. It was no different through my addiction, through treatment and most importantly after treatment. Going through primary care I had to make a drastic change to my life, knowing I couldn’t go back to what I was doing career wise. That’s when I made the decision to pursue making and producing music by enrolling in an audio engineering school. Over the last year being able to learn the tools to start working in the music industry has been a very powerful experience in my recovery, giving me a new lease on life as well as giving me purpose. On any given day, good or bad, I can now open up a session in my own little makeshift studio to start writing music that I hope can reach someone somewhere very soon and help them through whatever they are feeling in the moment. In the future I am looking into being able pass along some of the tools I’ve learned over the last year to help others trying to overcome addiction”

David Penny

David Penny is Together We Can's Marketing and Media coordinator. Learn more about him & read his articles here.

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