Music Therapy’s Benefits for Patients with Schizophrenia

Music therapy can be used to help all sorts of mental health issues, including Schizophrenic delusions and hallucinations.

Music therapy has been around as early as the 1700s. It has since evolved and established itself as an effective therapeutic tool for mental and physical ailments. If you or a loved one is struggling with schizophrenia, music therapy may be a treatment worth trying.

This article will cover:

  • What is music therapy?
  • Why would someone with schizophrenia choose music therapy over talk therapy?
  • How does music therapy benefit schizophrenic patients?
  • What kind of music therapy would be best for a patient with schizophrenia?

What is Music Therapy?

Kenneth E. Bruscia defined music therapy as “an interpersonal process in which the therapist uses music and all of its facets to help patients to improve, restore or maintain health.” In other words, music therapy is the use of music to treat mental illnesses and physical ailments.

Music therapy is often run by a licensed professional at schools, nursing homes, hospitals, or during inpatient stays at mental hospitals. It can be used as a mood enhancer, it can calm people down, or excite them. Music therapy is different for everyone and has numerous benefits.

Woman staring at the sunset.
Music therapy is not a replacement for talk therapy or pharmaceuticals, but it broadens the treatment plan, adding more ways for the patient to express themselves.

Why would someone with schizophrenia choose music therapy? Is medication not good enough?

Roughly 70% of patients with schizophrenia experience auditory hallucinations of some kind. These hallucinations coincide with increased anxiety, increased depression, and heightened urges to injure oneself. Even with medication, 50% of schizophrenic patients still experience auditory hallucinations. With these statistics, it is clear that pharmaceuticals are not enough to treat patients with schizophrenia.

The next level of treatment would be talk therapy. One on one psychotherapy sessions with a counselor are a common and effective occurrence in schizophrenia care. In these sessions, CBT and CET skills come in. CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy is used to change thinking and behavior. A therapist will help them understand their triggers, when hallucinations will flare up, and how to reduce delusions. CET is cognitive enhancement therapy. It teaches patients how to better recognize social cues.

The next level is psychosocial therapy– working with a group. After improvements have been made in psychotherapy, group work is good for establishing community, discovering what works for others, and building optimism. If others can start to feel better, why can’t they?

However, psychotherapy is not always enough. Despite the numerous benefits, the side effects of schizophrenia can and will remain. A well-rounded and diverse approach to treatment is good for any ailment, and adding music therapy can only provide more benefits.

Band playing instruments together.
Music therapy helps patients with schizophrenia communicate with others and stay grounded.

How does music therapy benefit schizophrenic patients?

In a concise list, some of the benefits music therapy has on patients with schizophrenia include:

  • Lower muscle tension
  • Decreased anxiety/agitation
  • Enhanced interpersonal relationships
  • Higher motivation
  • Better self-image
  • Increased self-esteem
  • More verbalization
  • Improved group cohesiveness
  • Successful and safe ways to release emotions

Going more in depth, music therapy can also be useful to schizophrenic patients via:

Modulation of Attention

Have you ever listened to a song and become utterly entranced that you forget what else is going on? Music therapy can capture the attention of people who are struggling, helping them stay present in the moment. For patients with schizophrenia, being present can help combat delusions by focusing on what they know they can hear.

Modulation of Emotion

Roughly 40% of people with schizophrenia are diagnosed with depression or experience depressive symptoms. Feelings of depression among schizophrenic patients are often called negative symptoms– they make the patient feel low. Music can improve mood, and help emotional regulation. Regulating emotions is a common difficulty among people with schizophrenia. Music therapy can help them feel in control.

Modulation of Cognition

Music is also related to the memory process. Music therapy can help people with schizophrenia store and retrieve memories, a difficult task for someone whose brain is constantly feeding them distortions.

Modulation of Communication

Communication is a huge perk of music therapy. It encourages verbal communication, but also helps non-verbal people communicate their emotions via music. It allows people to interact on an emotional level, not just through words.

Friends sit outside a tent, one of them strums a guitar.
Compositional, improvisational, and receptive music therapy are the best choices for patients with schizophrenia.

What music therapy treatments would be optimal for patients with schizophrenia?

There are four overall genres of music therapy: compositional, improvisational, re-creative, and receptive music therapy. Each appeal to a different group of people. People with schizophrenia would likely respond best to receptive, compositional, and improvisational music therapy.

Compositional Music Therapy

This type of music therapy involves writing your own piece of music with the help of a therapist. This can include lyrics and instruments. It is typically used for boosting confidence and self esteem. It is also a creative outlet for people experiencing grief. This type of music therapy is beneficial to schizophrenia patients by treating the negative symptoms, while engaging their brain by creating.

Receptive Music Therapy

In receptive music therapy, the therapist plays music for the patient to respond to. The client can sing along, dance, cry, or react the way they see fit– there is no wrong emotion. This type is also good for treating the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, but also for hearing and memory issues. It helps clients stay in the moment.

Improvisational Music Therapy

Improvisational is spontaneously creating a song. The therapist consults the client for decisions and together, they make a song. This forces the patient to make choices, making it an excellent choice for people who struggle with self confidence. It can also be therapeutic for patients who aren’t willing to speak head-on about their struggles and trauma. Auditory or visual hallucinations can be embarrassing or difficult to talk about– music therapy simply lets the patient feel.

Person looking through records.
Music therapy is not a replacement for talk therapy– it is an additional treatment method.

Those are some of the ways music therapy can help schizophrenia patients!

Music therapy is a therapeutic treatment that can be added to regular psychotherapy. It is not a replacement. Music therapy allows the patient to be present in the moment, communicate with others, and express their emotions in a healthy way, without fear of judgment. It is an excellent addition to a treatment plan for someone struggling with schizophrenia.

Lydia Rosenstock
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