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Music Therapy

Person playing a tambourine as a part of a music therapy session  

In his song “Trenchtown Rock,” reggae musician Bob Marley said, “One good thing about music: when it hits, you feel no pain.”

So it is not surprising that music is being used more and more often as a sanctuary from the type of pain that some teens try to dull or avoid using drugs or alcohol.

In fact, music therapy is becoming more widely accepted as a tool to help children and adults alike deal with a wide range of emotional issues stemming from substance abuse problems. It is even being utilized in the treatment of mental health conditions, learning disabilities, chronic pain, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Teen Addicted Respond to Music

There are many different techniques and programs which employ music therapy, but one application that has shown results with substance abuse patients is drumming. A 2004 study in the American Journal of Public Health reports that “drum circles” show great potential in “complementary addiction therapy, particularly for repeated relapse and when other counseling modalities have failed.”

In addition, music therapists supervise exercises such as songwriting and lyric analysis, which are designed to help chemically-dependent patients reduce their guilt and fear while boosting their feelings of joy and acceptance. Others combine music therapy with art therapy to help adolescents become better aware of their feelings (for instance, having participants draw an image which describes a feeling they experience while listening to a certain piece of music).

Evidence-Based Treatment

It is important to point out that music therapy is not some new age, 21st-century fad. It became an organized clinical profession back in the 1940s and is overseen in the U.S. today by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). Numerous schools offer curricula for a degree as a music therapist, after which the person must complete over a thousand hours of clinical internship in order to become board-certified.

According to the AMTA, research has demonstrated that musical therapy can result in several positive outcomes which may benefit teens with substance abuse issues, including:

  • Reduced muscle tension
  • Improved self-image
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Decreased anxiety/agitation
  • Increased verbalization
  • Enhanced interpersonal relationships
  • Improved group cohesiveness
  • Enhanced self-expression and self-awareness
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved perception and differentiation of feelings
  • Improved ability to recognize and cope with traumatic triggers

No Talent Necessary

Perhaps the best aspect of music therapy is that participants do not need to be proficient in playing an instrument, singing, or any other facet of music. Moreover, music therapy is not limited to any style or genre of music; in fact, therapists try to tailor their treatment programs to the musical preferences of the patient. However, music therapy should not be viewed as a comprehensive panacea that can cure addiction, but rather a tool that can be incorporated into an individual’s overall treatment plan.

Teen struggling with addiction playing on a drum set during music therapy

Because music therapy is medically characterized as an “active treatment,” it is possible for music therapy sessions to be covered by either Medicaid or private health insurance plans. However, it is vital to check with your health care provider to see if music therapy costs can be reimbursed for adolescents who are battling addiction or substance abuse.

For teens who do not seem as interested in more traditional types of addiction treatment, music therapy might sound attractive because of its unconventionality and its appeal to a common teenage interest. So if you think your son or daughter might benefit from music therapy, try searching for a certified music therapist in your area. After all, if music can improve the mood of anyone listening to it, why not leverage its power to help break the teen addiction cycle?

For more information on therapies that can help teenagers who have substance abuse problems, contact us today.

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