I am not a holistically inclined kind of guy, and regard with skepticism many of the more mystical claims made by alternative practitioners. I have to admit though, my hardened shell is crumbling as I get old, and I guess, soft. Meditation works, it does wonders; yoga apparently offers as much against relapse as group therapy, and acupuncture shows an incredible ability to reduce the suffering of those going through detox and withdrawal pains.
No one can say with certainty why these activities help, but they do, the anecdotal evidence is strong, and evidence based studies confirm their efficacy. And music therapy, apparently, also works very well as a complimentary therapy for addiction treatment, as it does in many other health promotional fields.
Does Music Therapy Work?
It works; people sing its praises, but the relatively new discipline still lacks those strong scientific and evidence based studies used to convince all of us doubting naysayers of its merits. It’s getting there though. There are music therapy degree programs at many respected universities, an accredited association of trained and professional therapists, and increasing acceptance in the health world – an acceptance grudgingly earned by those that have to respect the results it shows.
Late stage Alzheimer’s patients, completely incommunicative, can still on a preconscious level participate in group sessions of rhythmic music – a last communication from a fading mind. Music is elemental and emotional, and far removed from the conscious chatter of our forebrain – our thinking brain, and so it makes sense that music could be an effective tool to delve into our emotional selves. And that, when patients receive appropriate guidance from a trained professional, is what seems to happen.
Addicts or alcoholics in recovery are encouraged to make music, as a way of releasing-purging-deep seated and destructive emotions. Emotions that may be too painful to put into words – emotional experiences that may influence our behaviors – yet that we couldn’t put into words even if we tried. Through self expression, addicts bleed off some emotional intensity, and may then be better able to manage what remains. Some techniques used include using music and imagery for relaxation and anxiety control, self expression through group lyrical song writing, and most commonly as used in addiction treatment, through drumming circles.
In shamanistic and ritual traditions from cultures across the world, drumming serves to facilitate an altered and ecstatic state. It influences a trance like state; and in the mind, it produces theta waves of deep relaxation, similar to a meditative consciousness. Anecdotal evidence from practitioners suggests that drumming in a group can transform fragmented and angry individuals, and produce a state of group harmony and openness, perfect for the exploration of group therapy. Those that work with troubled youth report that through drumming, they can often break through a tough external veneer, and get to the real kid inside. And the drummers love it. Participants in drumming therapy report a high satisfaction, and in an Australian study, the use of music therapy in treatment increased total-length retention rates.
We don’t yet understand addiction, not really, and so we still lack that perfect treatment formula. We do know, intuitively and experimentally, that addiction exists on a mind-body-soul plane, and that treatments that combine cognitive/ psycho therapies and medical health promotion – with a third more intangible “spiritual” element, seem to offer those in recovery more. Spirituality is a tough nut though – hard to define, even personally, and very tough to study scientifically. It’s an intangible, but it’s a valid and necessary part of life-changing addiction treatment, and it is a necessary and vital part of the human experience.
No one is saying the music alone offers a cure for addiction, but it does seem a valuable peripheral therapy – and to be honest, it sounds kind of fun too.