It is the 21st Century and our problems are relative to the era we live in. In the age of quick information and fast food, it is only natural that many people are experiencing a massive flux of stressful thoughts and emotions. Disturbing visuals and news reports have become the staple diet for our intellectual appetites, and we all know that illness is inevitable if we do not maintain a balanced diet – for the body and for the mind. According to a 2017 study published in the reputed general medical journal The Lancet, “197·3 million people had mental disorders in India, including 45·7 million with depressive disorders and 44·9 million with anxiety disorders”. Moreover, the involvement of mental disorders in the total DALYs (disability-adjusted life-years) of India rose from 2.5% in 1990 to 4.7% in 2017. Stressed from their extensive and exhaustive jobs, individuals resort to a variety of coping mechanisms.  Some prefer medications, others opt for counseling, and many people even resort to using narcotics. Each of these techniques, however, has the potential to cause collateral damage in the form of side effects and dependencies. To tackle these issues, alternative techniques of therapy are being incorporated in the treatment of patients suffering from a mental disorder.  One of these techniques which have been gaining a lot of popularity lately is music therapy.

As a child, I used to believe that everyone loves music as much as I do. Surely people have different preferences, but I was convinced that everybody around me feels the same as me when they listen to a piece of music of their choice. I was wrong and right at the same time. As I grew up and gained more experience, I realized that everyone interacts with music in their own unique way; some like to relax to a soothing flute melody while others bang their heads to metal rock. Although it is true that every individual connects differently with music on an emotional level, most of the human beings exhibit similar biological reactions in this situation. It has been observed that listening to pleasant melodies triggers our brain into secreting dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with perceptible pleasures resulting from food, drugs and/or sex. Furthermore, playing musical instruments or singing a song instigates the production of several endorphins, similar to the ones produced while exercising. Music therapy has branched into several forms of treatment, and experts utilise the aforementioned chemical benefits of music by molding them to fit the specific needs of each patient, akin to a medical doctor prescribing specific medications and psycho-stimulating therapies based on their patient’s specific needs.

Music therapy is generally classified into two categories: receptive and active. As the names suggest, the receptive methods of music therapy focus on the listening abilities of a patient, whereas the active methods attain success via the instruction of a musical instrument or form. Both these methods, however, elevate the overall musicianship and emotional wellbeing of the patient. The most common active method of music therapy is perhaps the ‘Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music’. Developed by Helen Lindquist Bonny, in this form of music therapy, “the patient is asked to focus on an image, using this as a starting point to think and discuss any related problems”. A piece of music, played in the background, accompanies the guided imagery and music is considered a co-therapist in this process due to its massive influence on the entire procedure. This form of therapy merges traditional psychiatric practices with a more unconventional form of therapy to effectively treat several mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and hypertension.

While the receptive methods of music therapy definitely help in enhancing the mental health of an individual, the active methods focus on improving mental health as well as the motor skills of a patient. The most common and easily accessible form of active music therapy is a drum circle. Drum circles are becoming extremely popular in several major towns of India where they deliver a trifecta of solutions to hard-working individuals by

  • Enhancing their musicianship,

  • Improving their mental and physical health, and

  • Helping them socialize with like-minded people, which again helps if you are dealing with depression and anxiety.

Drum circles, although extremely engaging and uplifting, are not as effective as some of the more advanced methods of active music therapy for patients suffering from acute locomotive disorders. Treatment techniques such as the Dalcroze Eurythmics method and the Kodaly method greatly assist in treating patients with motor difficulties by efficiently delivering music performance lessons focusing on “rhythm, structure and movement expression”.

If humanity is eager to progress towards a healthier society, it is imperative that we do not neglect the alternative forms of therapy and treatment. Methods such as music therapy can aid, if not completely replace, the conventional techniques used to treat people with mental disorders and motor difficulties. Many patients are reluctant towards consuming strong medications and interacting with psychologists and traditional therapists because of the same conditions for which they are seeking treatment – anxiety and depression. Music therapy is a great alternative for such patients since it not only takes the pressure off of their minds but also provides a new skill or hobby for the patient to engage themselves in. Developing a new skill results in the overall, holistic development of the individual which consequently enriches their mental and physical health. Alternative treatment methods such as music therapy should be promoted by doctors and other healthcare experts if we as a civilization truly wish to eradicate the severe, psychological by-products that accompany the daily tasks of an individual in this age of overpowering professional requirements and rapid transformation.  

– Shashwat Jha

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