ASMR vs. Music Therapy: What’s the Difference?

Everything You Need to Know About ASMR, Music Therapy, and the Difference Between the Two

You probably found your way to this article by Googling something like “ASMR vs. music therapy” or “what's the difference between ASMR and music therapy.” Well, don’t worry you found the right article, in this post we’ll explain what ASMR is and what music therapy is and then we will compare and contrast them to show you the difference between the two. This will help you determine which of the two options might be better for you depending on your mental health needs.

woman playing guitar on a couch
One important difference is that sometimes music therapy involves playing an instrument, ASMR never requires much participation on behalf of the listener/viewer.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response  (ASMR)

What Is It and How Does it Work?

ASMR is the third most searched for term on Youtube across the entire planet. With YouTube boasting an extensive user base of over 2.527 billion users, it's evident that the popularity of ASMR content has skyrocketed, captivating viewers from all corners of the globe with its soothing and immersive sensory experiences. So it’s no surprise you were out and about Googling what it was on the old internet machine. By now you are probably aware that ASMR contains very light auditory noises that people find quite relaxing to listen to. But ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. And it describes a light feeling of tingling sensation in the crown of the head. This tingling sensation moves down the neck and into the upper spine. This sensation occurs when the listener is exposed to certain auditory triggers that are present in the sound or video file and includes a low grade feeling of euphoria. Many people find this euphoric tingling sensation to be very relaxing and comforting especially when they are experiencing anxiety or when they are trying to sleep.

So far the psychological basis for ASMR is not fully understood. Although public interest has increased dramatically over the past few years, the scientific community hasn’t had the time to catch up with the public’s interest in the trend.

A few years ago nobody knew what ASMR was. The idea was first introduced in 2007 on an obscure health website. But didn’t peak the public’s interest until recently. But as soon as 2017 there was an ASMR scene intentionally placed in the movie Battle of the Sexes starring Steve Carrell and Emma Stone.

ASMR is mostly consumed online though, not through Hollywood films. Although it is primarily thought of as being an auditory response, many respondents report videos as being some of the greatest triggers for ASMR. That’s why Youtube and social media are such a popular source for ASMR videos. They are easy to access from anywhere you want when you need to relax. They can be used on your lunch break at work or school, or even on the bus during your commute. They provide a relaxing euphoric sensation that many respondents report help them deal with feelings of anxiety.

woman holding a makeup brush to a microphone to create an ASMR recording
ASMR is different from music therapy in that it features relaxing sounds like whispers,soft speaking, or even nails and brushes run across the microphone.

Music Therapy Is Different From ASMR

For Starters It Involves A Licensed Professional

Music therapy differs from ASMR in a few pretty significant ways. ASMR mostly includes sounds that are like people whispering, or nails lightly over a microphone. Delicate hand movements and crisp sounds are also known to trigger it. In other words ASMR includes sounds and videos that people naturally find relaxing. Whether its delicate hand movements or the appearance of close personal attention, the videos often feature communication that is relaxing. Most human communication is done non-verbally. So videos of non-verbal communication are used in ASMR as well as very relaxing verbal communication or other auditory communication.

The same is not really true for music therapy. Music therapy doesn’t rely on video or tactile stimulation the way ASMR does. Music therapy simply relies on music and the tones and semitones it contains to make the user experience a relaxing effect.

The official definition for Music Therapy from MusicTherapy.Org states that music therapy is the “clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals.” This is done within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed profession. This professional will need to have completed a music therapy program. In other words music therapy involves direct communication and coordination with a counselor.

This coordination is essential because music therapy is meant to accomplish certain goals and the therapist will know how to choose the music to achieve the patient’s individual goal. Some of the goals that are covered using music therapy and a licensed professional include: promoting wellness, alleviating pain, managing stress, and expressing feelings and emotions in a healthy way. Music therapy is good at enhancing memory and improving communication as well as promoting physical rehabilitation. And that is just the beginning of what music therapy can be used for. It can also be used for everything from managing depression to speech therapy.

a music therapist helping an older man learn to play guitar
Music therapy is different from ASMR in that it features a licensed therapist.

So What Are The Key Differences Between ASMR and Music Therapy?

ASMR Isn’t Clinically or Professionally Administered, Music Therapy Is.

As you can see music therapy is a much more professional and involved process than ASMR. ASMR is for when you want to relax and get a slight feeling of euphoria. Music therapy is for when you want to work with a licensed professional to achieve a desired outcome. There’s all kinds of research and data out there that shows that music has pretty profound psychosomatic effects when it comes to the healing process. There’s a reason music therapy is used for such a wide range of different goals. ASMR can’t improve your speech function or your physical rehab the way music therapy can. ASMR doesn’t improve your memory or help you express emotions.

What we think is the most interesting difference between music therapy and ASMR-- ASMR is not known to invoke an emotional response in its listeners. This is something that music therapy is not only known to do, but is usually intended to do. This is obviously due to the natural connection we have emotionally with music. Not only has music been part of human civilization for thousands and thousands of years, it is also widely regarded as one of the most emotional art forms. Something as simple as the difference between a major or minor key can invoke feelings of happiness or sadness in the listener respectively. This is something music has a profound power to do that ASMR is not known to do. Which we find not only interesting but probably consequential when it comes to mental and emotional health.

However, that being said, ASMR is about two thousand years behind music when it comes to the research that has been done on it. It is such a new trend that the biological basis for it isn’t even understood yet. As more research is conducted on ASMR there may be really therapeutic effects that are developed. And you will have therapists who are licensed in ASMR the way therapists are licensed to perform music therapy now, but it hasn’t happened yet. ASMR is still too new and there’s been little clinical research conducted so far for it to have any serious medical use at the moment. It's good for relaxing but it doesn’t show the same outcomes that music therapy does on the healing process and the memory process.

a therapist talking to a teen who is listening to music on his phone
A licensed psychologist helps you pick and achieve desired goals in music therapy, this is far different from ASMR.

It's important to remember that the real difference between ASMR and music therapy is that they are in completely different stages of understanding and development. Music has been used in the medical process for thousands of years. The Greek god of healing and music is even one and the same (Apollo). However ASMR wasn’t around during antiquity. It didn’t emerge until less than fifteen years ago and there’s been little clinical research conducted on how it actually works. The psychological and biological bases are not even understood for it yet. Both are good choices, with few negative side effects, but they really depend on what you're looking for. ASMR is for slight feelings of euphoria, a tingling sensation, and relaxation. Music therapy is for serious improvement in your life and is practiced with a professional. Typically music therapy is used to improve your psychological or biological wellbeing.

Anthony Stockton
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