The Importance of Music in Recovery by Sam Pow, LCSW

People think that you need training as an artist to create art, skills as a musician to make music. At La Ventana we discover the art and music inside of each of us, regardless of skills and training (or lack thereof). We see that art and music are emotions put into action. All you need to create art and music is a feeling you are willing to express. You have an emotion? Then you’ve got a song! We write songs collaboratively, fitting our ideas together like a puzzle. We write about the themes that have been coming up for us in therapy, the things we are struggling with and the challenges we have overcome.

We also put mantras and positive affirmations to music, collaboratively turning them into Songtras and Songfirmations that we can meditate to. All the Songs, Songtras and Songfirmations that we record, we have access to on our Soundcloud page. Here is a little more about why we incorporate music and Songtras into our treatment here at La Ventana:

The calming effect of mantras, by decreasing activity in the default mode network (a brain region associated with rumination, catastrophizing and shame), is well documented through recent fMRI research. The efficacy of practicing positive affirmations as a tool to increase self-esteem and erode the deleterious effects of negative self-talk is widely known, a primary building block in the process of cognitive restructuring. Participating in music has been shown to reduce production of the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine, while stimulating production of social bonding and reward neurochemicals including oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and endorphin. Hence, music in mental health and recovery increases subjective wellbeing, reduces both physical and emotional pain, boosts immunity, facilitates learning, improves memory and promotes social bonding. Music also alters consciousness through a shift away from high frequency Beta brain waves (typical in a state of rational thought) and toward Alpha and Theta brain waves associated more with activation of the unconscious. In this way, music can be a safe, healthy way to achieve an altered state of consciousness, a good alternative for clients who have a history of seeking out such shifts in mood, cognition and perception through other, riskier means. Furthermore, music has been proven to be a highly effective tool for helping students assimilate new information. It activates brain regions responsible for the absorption and organization of meaningful data. Additionally, music provides a melodic mnemonic device, aiding in the retrieval and incorporation of said information. Individualized mantras and affirmations, collaboratively put to music and recorded for the client, enhance that client’s ability to weave the sentiments contained in the mantras and affirmations into their internal dialogue. The client’s peers’ involvement in the music making and recording process, increases their sense of “buy in” because the positive messages encoded into the melodies and rhythms are presented as an offering from their cohort, their community. Indeed, psychologists recently discovered that when people sing together, their heart beats synchronize, much in the way that fetuses have been shown to synchronize their heart beats with their mother’s by listening to her pulse. Attunement of this kind, provides an antidote to the alienation, abandonment, rejection and judgment that so many clients of mental health and chemical dependency programs experience. It can be inferred from crime statistics and mental health data following defunding of the arts in public schools, that pervasive lack of opportunity for collaborative musical experiences has contributed to the high rates of mental health and substance use struggles in the community. Cultural anthropologists observe that on a global scale, musical rituals and spiritual practices are universal amongst all traditional peoples and foster social cohesion. Music heals. Music inspires. Music unifies. Music takes the “I” out of Illness and replaces it with a “We”, creating Wellness.