November 2020 Staff Picks: Music As Medicine

 Various people listening to music through different listening devices.



In what might only be described as year from another dimension, people everywhere are struggling to adjust to life as we know it turned upside down. From employment changes to derailed goals to unending social isolation, the pandemic is responsible for a mass uptick in anxiety, depression and lonliness, even in people who have never been previously afflicted by mood disorders. It's nearly impossible to read anything or go anywhere without being reminded of the dangers of Covid-19 to our physical health, but news addressing the toll it's taking on our mental health is harder to come by.


In a society that still has a long way to go in recognizing the dangers of mental illness and the importance of accessible mental health care, it's important to acknowledge that the ways we're feeling right now are valid. This is a silent epidemic stemming from a situation unprecedented by anything we've experienced in our lifetime, and its uniquely universal. An invisible shockwave that recognizes no borders, the psychological effects of the last 8 months have reached every corner of the planet, with the only consolation being that we're all in this together.


Fortunately, there are many tools at our disposal to help with whatever struggles we might be facing. This month I want to focus on the therapeutic effects of music, a potent and powerful tool that is widely available and doesn't require a prescription. As someone who has struggled with mental illness, I recognize how frustrating it can be to be told to "get some sunshine" or "try yoga" when the treatment you need goes beyond behavioral changes into the realm of therapy or medicine, and it's not my intention to suggest that music itself can be an effective replacement for these treatments. However, there are many exciting and innovative developments in psychotherapy that incorporate creativity and the arts with promising results, such as music therapy, which opens up opportunities for treatments that are not only more accessible but potentially... fun!


Music, which is generally free and already exists as a major part of our lives, can have interesting psychological and physiological effects on us. Variations in musical components, such as the tempo, key, instrumentation and lyrics of a song can quickly alter our mood and energy levels. The process of writing music can offer deep emotional catharsis, whereas playing music alongside others is an opportunity for companionship. The effect that music has on us can go beyond mental health into our physical well being as well. Music therapy is being used more and more often as a tool for neurorehabilitation, due to music's unique ability to communicate beyond the limitations of words. And although this might be relatively new research in the Western world, many other societies have used music as a healing mechanism for centuries, holistically integrating sound with medicine.


The resources I've collected, which are all available electronically through the Teachers College and Columbia University's databases, address all of the aforementioned ways that music is used therapeutically, and there is a plethora of additional research and writing on the topic if you find that it piques your interest. Hopefully these books can offer insight and suggestions to help manage your mood if you're not feeling your best. If you've been struggling to cope or experiencing mood issues and are looking for immediate resources, Columbia Health can help direct you to the support you need. Stay safe and be well everyone!



Click on the books below to get access to our library’s e-books.