I am a music therapist, and this topic always fascinated me in school. I would go to conferences with other music therapists and learn how they would use music sequences to assist in altering mood. Some of their clients included veterans who had served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and emerged with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that resulted in severe emotional distress. These music therapists would use iPods with pre-selected, intentionally-driven music that was specifically designed in a certain progression to soothe the symptoms of PTSD. After experiencing the musical sequence, many veterans reported a decrease in levels of anxiety and overall depression due to the effectiveness of the “prescribed” music that was used. Currently, more and more research is being conducted to find out the real benefits and advantages of using music therapy with those dealing with PTSD. Here is an article with more information about such studies for your reading pleasure.
Let's Get Down to the Nitty Gritty...
What if we could use the same approach in our day-to-day lives to help decrease anxieties, stress, and sadness, and in turn increase positive mood or overall feelings of joy and completeness in our lives? This is a process that I would like for you to try for yourself, and with which to commit for at least seven days. Like any goal we strive for, time, commitment, and energy are necessary if we are to see an observable change and to experience more positive behaviors. Here are the steps involved in this music-based therapeutic process:
1. Match Mood. First, take note of your current moods in the following areas before you change anything. Take note of how you feel first thing in the morning, around mid-morning, lunch time, mid-afternoon, and in the evening as you are winding down from your day. The natural inclination would be to counter our less-desired moods by listening to music that is the opposite of our current state. However, I’d like for you to first play one to two songs that match your current mood. For example, if you wake up and you are feeling tired and maybe a little melancholy, play something that parallels those feelings. Also, if it’s midday and you are feeling irritated, play a song that has musical components that reflect that irritation. This can also be a healthy way to reflect on what you’re feeling in the moment.
2. Neutralize Mood. For this step, choose one or two songs that are neutral in nature, meaning that the musical elements are not too dynamic or emotional. Try to find songs that are calm, steady, and stable in terms of rhythm, tempo (speed), instruments, and volume. An important factor is also to choose music with which you are not familiar. Familiar songs include previous associations and thus often evoke an emotional response. Those responses are not useful for this step in the sequence, as the focus is to attain a calm and neutral state of mind.
3. Influence and Alter Mood. For this final step, keep in mind what your desired mood is at this point. Is it relaxation, happiness, energy, or perhaps something else? Whichever is your answer will be the focus for the final musical selections that you choose. Now we are going to influence our moods with music that uses positive elements to stimulate positive emotions. These elements can include:
• A major key, which sounds happy
• Has an energetic, upbeat rhythm that is steady enough to move along to
if you wish
• Has a melody simple enough to sing
• Is or is not familiar
So give this exercise a whirl and see if you notice any changes in the ability to alter your mood. Good luck and have fun! I cannot wait to read from your comments how this exercise is for you!
Music Therapy and Mood
Music Therapy and PTSD
Written by Laura Evans, MT-BC