Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 – Music Therapy and Mental Health

Nordoff Robbins Director of Music Services, Simon Procter writes:

Music, Mental Health and the Coronavirus Outbreak

Life can be tough in many ways and all of us find our mental resilience being challenged at times – not least during periods of uncertainty such as that brought by the ongoing global impact of the Coronavirus Outbreak.

Lots of people find it helpful to listen to music that they find meaningful or which reminds them of good times or people and places they love. For others, music is a means of building and sustaining healthy social connections – e.g. by playing with friends in a band, singing in a choir or taking opportunities to learn a musical skill. Although the Coronavirus outbreak has limited many people’s opportunities for face-to-face interaction, it is still possible to turn to music as a place to connect with others – as we have seen through the rapid growth of initiatives such as online choirs, musical resources and social media streaming services for music.

Our own online choir, singalong resources and musical activities for children have been created with this current need in mind.

Music Therapy and Mental Health

Sometimes people need a bit more help than this in accessing music’s help and this is where music therapy comes in. Mental illness impacts on people’s lives in many ways, but there is a musical dimension to mental wellbeing and hence also to mental illness. Some people’s illness causes them to come across as chaotic and disorganised. Others seem trapped in rigidity.

Mental illness also affects the way people are able to communicate – for example, becoming “flat” in their affect or “hyper” and unable to regulate themselves in relation to others. Music therapists will work musically with people in these situations to offer them a sense of musical companionship when other forms of companionship may be hard to experience or endure. Furthermore, they will endeavour to offer the person experiences of themselves which go beyond the limitations of the pathology – enabling someone who is trapped in rigidity to experience the freedom of music-making, or someone who is disorganised to experience the organisation of the beat and musical structure. And of course, for someone who finds expression all but impossible, being drawn into musical expressiveness (with no words required) can be a very powerful experience.

Music therapists work in hospitals, in outpatient services and also in community organisations alongside other professionals and service users. Many people tell us how surprised they are by the meaningfulness of music making and how this can motivate them to get out of bed in the morning to get to their music therapy session, to work at things in music when work otherwise seems too daunting, and to trust their music therapist when it is really hard to trust anyone.

Do take a moment to read the stories from Sadru, Simon and Joy about how music therapy has provided support to them.

How music therapy has helped Sadru, Simon and Joy