Why Music is a Powerful Therapeutic Tool, Especially in Ceremony

Music as Therapy

By Caroline Knight

Music is a very powerful tool in so many of life’s situations, from the ‘every day’ to the complex. Even music that we don’t think can affect us can do so, turning our moods dramatically. It has a strong influence on our emotions; and much more so when we love a song. Often nostalgia is attached to the songs we love the most, and a happy, upbeat song can do anything from raising a smile to inspiring spontaneous dance.

Music can be used as a form of therapy and this has been done with great success, resulting in the improvement of all kinds of conditions and personal issues. can benefit from music therapy. Even people that don’t usually consider themselves to be music fans can benefit from it.

When used as a component of or complement to a plant medicine or DMT trip, music plays a vital part of the set and setting. Sometimes it serves as an anchor to this reality so that one can maintain some degree of grasp on the local environment. Other times it serves as an enhancement to the journey, and when music is carefully directed as part of a ceremony - for instance, icaros and medicine songs - it can help to induce certain emotional states, purge stored energies and illnesses, and to coax someone back from a traumatic place, if necessary.

What is music therapy?

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The concept of music as therapy is simple. It means using music to help deal with both darker moods and mental states; it is a form of meditation that encourages presence at the same time as inspiring more positive, uplifted emotions. Whether the listener is lying still and taking in the music, dancing, singing or taking part in discussions about the music, it is all therapeutic.

Some people will feel too shy to dance or sing in public, and may prefer to do so alone. Although it helps to push the comfort zones a little, doing something that you are extremely uncomfortable with can be detrimental, so it may help to take it in steps, work towards building confidence for group interactions. Age, gender, music preferences etc. don’t matter at all – you’re sure to find a method that suits your requirements with a little experimentation.

Some people may wish to try learning a music instrument, which is a very helpful way to keep the mind occupied and engaged in something ongoing; it serves as both a stress reliever and a creative distraction technique from old mental patterns that you wish to release.

What is there to gain?

Stress reduction and relaxation are the obvious ones, but it can also help to relieve boredom and mental restlessness.  It facilitates emotional release, so stored up emotions and blockages can come out of the system. 

A meditative state can be induced very easily with flowing, beautiful music. Also, when there is a strong rhythm to the music, it stimulates and helps to synchronise brainwaves (think binaural beats). If you find concentration difficult, the faster beats will help more to keep your mind from wandering.

Dance is one of the most cathartic activities there is

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If dancing, you are doing cardiovascular exercise this is great for the heart and muscles, releasing tension in both. Physical conditions such as chronic pain can be alleviated.

Your immune system will be boosted by music. This is because you flood the body with endorphins through dancing, singing or just appreciating the music.  This is both healing and a preventative measure against future stress or illnesses.

An optimistic frame of mind is often reported by those using music as a form of therapy. As long as the music is chosen wisely, the listener is likely to feel heightened levels of positivity long after the session is finished. This is why there are so many dance meditation groups in existence these days – dancing for health and spiritual purposes is very popular, and with good reason.

Which conditions are helped by music therapy?

  • Autistic people have shown a great improvement in communication skills after using music as therapy

  • Sufferers of anxiety or depression can often feel a distinct improvement in mood

  • Those who suffer with hypertension can benefit from a lowering of blood pressure

  • Many people use music as a form of spiritual exploration; because of its meditative qualities

Those who are trying to overcome addiction can benefit from music therapy for all of the above reasons. It is a great supplement to more traditional forms of treatment as it helps to clear the mind and focus it so that the person may be less distracted by repetitive thoughts. They are more likely to find it easier to release negative emotions, and less likely to relapse due to boredom.

Loneliness can be a problem for those in therapy who are recovering from addictions and have broken away from their circle of friends, so music is a great way to divert the attention from this in a more positive way.

What types of music work best as therapy?

Not all music will be of benefit, so it is important to choose carefully, especially when feeling emotionally vulnerable or having associations with certain types of music; for example, those recovering from drug addictions might have associations with certain types of dance music that might encourage nostalgia. This wouldn’t be helpful, so it is wise to avoid anything that takes you back to place of reminiscing; instead aim for something new. There are many different types of music to experiment with, which is all part of the fun.

Making playlists of tracks that you find relaxing and soothing is one way of doing it. Likewise, making playlists of tracks that make you want to dance or sing is another. Different moods require different solutions, and it can also be of great benefit to join up with others in a regular group setting to experience it together – this raises the spirits significantly and builds confidence. In this way, it is possible to share music with others and experience music you may not have considered.

Drumming holds the keys to imagination

Drumming can be a great way to explore music as therapy, and has used in different cultures around the world for centuries. It is very simple to learn, can be as creative as you want it to be and has a strong effect on wellbeing because it encourages releasing negative emotions.

Shamanic drum journeying, although not necessarily considered a 'music' therapy, is a way that music is used to put the listener into a trance state so that they may explore themselves and other realms for profound healing. Anyone who has attended an ayahuasca ceremony has probably heard this form of music, and although simple in nature, it encourages a meditative state by changing the brainwaves, plunging the listener into a world of imagination - the greatest creative force at their disposal. YouTube has many drum journeys for people to listen to, so that is a great place to start.