Music and our Mental Health – When to see a Music Therapist

As we blast a beloved rock classic at a party, press play on an energizing pop anthem in the car, or soothe our broken hearts to the strains of a sad ballad there is no denying the power of music to foster change.

What you may not know is that the health benefits of music, especially for mental health, have been studied and practiced in a profession dating back to the mid-last century. Music Therapists in Canada have been working with many communities across the country for decades. From helping patients recover from brain injuries to comforting elders in long-term care music therapy’s health and wellness effects have been witnessed extensively, and time and time again science has shown: it works.

What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy has been shared through many mediums of pop culture including dialogue on television shows, being mentioned during music award programs, and in national bestselling books, however, music therapy as a healthcare profession is still misunderstood.

A Certified Music Therapist (MTA) has been trained to ensure music is being used effectively and within the largest body of knowledge — serving a wide range of citizens, from infants to elders. Under the umbrella of Counselling Therapists, Music Therapists work in diverse settings from the most specialized of medical settings — ICU, neuro-rehabilitation, and end-of-life care to wellness settings including employee assistance programs.

While every music therapy session is different, and there is no single prescription, the following goals regardless of age, are often requested:

  • decrease stress and/or anxiety;
  • reclaim focus and productivity;
  • motivate movements and mobility;
  • ignite the memory;
  • increase comfort in a social environment;
  • improve capacity for new learning and attention;
  • boost confidence and feelings of self-worth; and
  • in general, “feel better.”


In recent times the increase of being asked to target emotional well-being, mood regulation, and overall mental health, has been on the rise. Music therapy is perfectly suited to this domain due to music’s very nature of bypassing the verbal and going straight to the heart of the matter – feelings.

Healing through the tough times

Music Therapists have repeatedly witnessed individuals who have faced adversity using every ounce of their strength to recover — be it physically, cognitively, socially, or emotionally. Music, when used with skill and intention, is an effective and efficient resource that can dissolve the sense of stress and frustration. As stress declines, individuals can remember what they need to do, tackle a new project with more flexible thinking, or generally feel a level of control they didn’t have just minutes before when they were triggered. They are able to make their next, best decision with increased clarity and heart.

The ultimate aim of a Music Therapist, like all therapists, is to help the individual take small and consistent steps toward their goals that often include returning to their home, quality of life activities, and getting back to satisfying work and life.

One example is Greg, a corporate executive and life-long athlete in his 50s who had a major stroke that rendered him unable to walk or talk.  After three years of treatment, he shares with others that, “Music Therapy helped me find myself when so much of me was taken away. The Music Therapist helped heal my voice, my hands, and my heart.”

Music therapists help individuals find the right kind of music at the right time.

Just like our physical health, our mental health requires attention, perhaps now more than ever. Music Therapists believe there is no better way to give it the care it needs than through the right music, at the right time, and in the right way.

A single element of music like rhythm can be used to move someone from super-high anxiety states to calmer more cognitive states. For example, in some cases, a  person who works with a Music Therapist will enter into a deep-seated creative process that will ease their mind and guide them to see the world through a different lens — helping them feel less stuck. Spending time in music therapy can provide so many of the things we crave as humans – challenges, validation, recognition, and an opportunity to express ourselves freely.

In the words of one of Canada’s music therapy pioneers,

“I think that every little step we achieve helps make people realize how empowering music therapy can be. Every time we have success with a client, every time we touch someone and there is a response that is positive, it helps to widen the awareness of how music has been a part of the lives of every group of people on every continent from the days of the first beating drum.”

– Fran Herman, Music Therapy Pioneer

These results, and the hope for the future, indicate that every healthcare facility, employee assistance program, and learning centre has a Certified Music Therapist available for their people who seek development or change – regardless of age or circumstance.

With the right music and a skilled music therapist, everyone can benefit from the therapeutic power of music. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, consider reaching out to a music therapist to see how they can help.

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