Harnessing the Power of Music Therapy in Recovery

By Mountainside
man in field holding a guitar

We all know what it is like to have a movie soundtrack bring us to tears, for a song to pop up on the radio and remind us of a particular memory, or to attend a concert and feel the joy of singing along to a crowd favorite with hundreds of strangers. The power of music is universal, and  music therapy  harnesses this power in a more intentional, controlled way. 

What is music therapy? 

It is a specialized form of treatment that harnesses music to address your mental and physical needs. Backed by a large body of research, this therapy has gained popularity recently and is commonplace in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and addiction treatment centers. It’s conducted by trained professionals, who employ various kinds of techniques, such as playing musical instruments, singing, composing original music, and discussing the meanings of lyrics to help you improve your overall mental health and physical well-being. The power of music can also be enjoyed by all – music therapy benefits anyone, regardless of age or health! 

What kinds of music therapy can you explore? 

The word music is broad and interpretive – there are countless different genres and ways to make music, which is why there are so many kinds of music therapy. Generally, most sessions are either active – where you make the music – or receptive – where you listen to music – and can be categorized into one of four groups: 

  • Compositional – this kind of music therapy involves you composing your own tunes with the assistance of a trained therapist, which can incorporate both lyrics and instruments. Channeling your feelings onto paper is a healthy outlet for self-expression. 
  • Improvisational – this branch focuses more on the spontaneous, free-flow creation of music without writing things down or planning beforehand. Your music therapist can interpret your spur-of-the-moment music to better understand your emotions. 
  • Receptive – this type of therapy is more hands-off: your music therapist will, instead, play music for you to respond to. Receptive music therapy is a great way to vocalize your thoughts and feelings with the help of music, or even dance. 
  • Re-creative – in this method of music therapy, you’ll be asked to recreate the music your therapist played for you, allowing you to put your own spin on what you just heard using your voice and accompanying instruments. 

Mountainside is proud to offer both active and receptive music therapy. Our drum circles, which engage your self-expression with the opportunity to create unique rhythms, empower you to get in touch with your feelings and emotions. 

How can music therapy benefit your health? 

Many of us turn to music after a long day to relax and unwind, but have you ever wondered why? Music triggers many important processes in our bodies that help us feel good. Explore below to learn more about how music therapy can improve your physical and mental health: 


  • Pain management – listening to music may benefit pain intensity and emotional distress from pain and may even lead to reduced use of pain medication. 
  • Blood pressure & muscle tension – listening to music is a relaxing experience that calms you down, leading to a reduction in both muscle tension and blood pressure. 
  • Sleep problems – music therapy helps improve sleep quality in individuals who suffer from insomnia, which commonly co-occurs with substance abuse disorder. 
  • Memory – because music can be nostalgic and reflective, listening can help you better connect with precious moments from your past, improving recall ability. 


  • Stress reduction – sessions of music therapy helped to improve physical and psychological markers of stress, such as hormone levels, by reducing feelings of anxiety, tension, and restlessness. 
  • Anxiety improvement – listening to music can be a calming, relaxing experience that can reduce the intensity of anxiety symptoms. Music can also help reduce anxiety before important medical appointments or procedures. 
  • Depression reduction – adding music therapy to your treatment regimen may be more effective at reducing symptoms of depression than not. Music triggers the release of certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine and oxytocin, that are responsible for mood elevation and feelings of joy. 
  • Communication skills – engaging in active music therapy can help improve your communication skills, as composition allows you to share your thoughts and feelings with others in a healthy, constructive way. 
  • Self-regulation – you can develop healthier coping skills and emotional regulation by participating in music therapy. Music can help you manage your thoughts and emotions in a way that is safe and recovery friendly. 
  • Self-image – especially among young adult patients, music therapy can help you internalize a healthy self-image and identity and overcome associated negative emotions like shame and insecurity. 

How can music therapy help you stay sober? 

Music therapy is an invaluable tool and outlet to keep you on the path to sobriety. Its benefits apply to all stages of recovery from substance abuse, starting with withdrawal. Music therapy makes the process of withdrawal and detox easier on the body, by managing associated pain, nausea, and agitation. It also  decreased symptoms of depression in recovering addicts by 65 percent, and improved anxiety by 84 percent. Coupled with the benefit of better self-expression and self-regulation, music therapy can reduce common relapse triggers and the intensity of co-occurring disorders.  

Another important benefit of music therapy is cravings reduction. By incorporating music therapy into your addiction treatment, you can reduce drug cravings by upwards of 60 percent. The benefits of music therapy, which include improved self-expression and coping skills, can help keep you grounded and avoid the urge to use, which also prevents relapse. Music therapy can increase motivation to stay sober by more than 30 percent, and motivation to seek treatment and life change by more than 40 percent. When you’re motivated to stay sober and get help, you’re less likely to relapse.  

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.