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What is Music Therapy and How Does It Work?

August 9, 2021

4 min.

There are an ever increasing number of therapies used to help those struggling with mental health disorders. One therapy we integrate into our care plans is music therapy, which helps teens and young adults foster a healthy way to express emotion.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team


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There are an ever increasing number of therapies used to help those struggling with mental health disorders. At Charlie Health, we’ve pioneered virtual intensive outpatient treatment programs. By utilizing a highly personalized approach to treatment, we’re able to address the unique needs of each client and their family. One therapy we integrate into our care plans is music therapy, which helps teens and young adults foster a healthy way to express emotion. 

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is defined as, “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” The short version? Music therapy is an effective and accepted form of therapy performed by certified therapists that allows patients to, “address physical, psychological, cognitive and/or social” issues related to mental health. Music therapy is unique in its non-invasiveness and its reliance on the creative process. Music is an expressive outlet that most people can connect with and enjoy––whether it’s making music, writing lyrics, learning an instrument, or simply listening. And when people with mental health issues, especially anxiety and depression, can connect their emotions to a cathartic outlet, the intensity of those emotions become more manageable. 

Music therapy has been found to help people cope with and heal from a plethora of mental health disorders: from military veterans to healthcare workers processing the trauma of treating Covid-19 patients. But studies have found that music therapy is particularly helpful and healing for young adults and teens coping with mental health issues. One study from the University of Washington that surveyed over 1000 high school-aged teenagers found that the majority of students, “believe music helps [them] release or control emotions and helps coping with difficult situations such as peer pressure, substance abuse, pressures of study and family, the dynamics of friendships and social life, and the pain of loss or abuse.” Further, the study reported that teens, “see music as their ‘social glue’ and as a bridge for building acceptance and tolerance for people of different ages and cultural backgrounds.” Within a clinical context, music as “release” and as a “bridge” makes it an effective therapy because of its unique ability to connect a group of people with shared struggles and emotions in a healthy and safe way.   

Similarly, studies have found that music therapy is particularly effective for those with clinical depression (one of the most diagnosed mental health disorders in the world, especially among young people). In a 2017 study, researchers found that when music therapy was used for people diagnosed with clinical depression, there was a significant reduction in the intensity of their symptoms over time compared with a group of people who did not engage with music therapy. Participants also reported that music therapy helped improve their, “confidence, self-esteem, [and] motivation.” At Charlie Health, helping teens, young adults, and their families build healthier relationships to their emotions and communication–which often involves working through insecurities and learning how to better manage the most intense symptoms of mental health issues.  

Music therapy is an incredibly helpful way to help patients process some of the most difficult parts of their healing journey, and Charlie Health leverages this treatment modality throughout the clinical curricula. “Music is human; for as long as there’s been recorded history, humans have gathered around to match sound to stories; to put feelings to song. It’s a way we connect our feelings to a tangible experience: a sound. It’s also a way to express those experiences with other people. Music is inherently communal, and community is one of the most effective ways to battle mental health struggles,” says Music Therapist and Creative Arts Supervisor, Elizabeth Brown, MM, MT-BC. “At Charlie Health, we integrate music therapy into each of our patients’ care programs in order to foster that connection. And when paired with more traditional therapies such as CBT and DBT, music therapy lets patients work toward and maintain sustainable recovery and wellness.”

Contact Us
If you or someone you love is struggling with their mental health, please reach out. Charlie Health is here to support teens and young adults struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. Our team of expert professionals is here to listen and develop an appropriate treatment plan that fits your needs. You are not alone––Charlie Health is here to support you. 

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