April 09, 2015
Music Therapy for Veterans: How Music Can Heal and Rehabilitate
Music therapy for veterans is one of the most effective treatments for mental health issues facing former military personnel. We all know how music is soothing to the soul, but research shows that music therapy can also heal the mind and body.
For veterans as well as active duty military, music therapy programs provide powerful tools for overcoming post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other struggles.
Military veterans face many challenges. It can be difficult for veterans to reintegrate into civilian life, especially for service members who were wounded in battle. Often, these wounds aren’t physical. When healing from PTSD, depression, anxiety, or issues related to traumatic brain injury (TBI), music therapy for veterans can be very successful.
In 1950, the American Music Therapy Association was created to serve veterans after volunteers saw how music made a positive impact on WWII veterans. Today, music therapy has become a popular field among mental health professionals. Many studies confirm the success of music therapy in treating different problems for patients, particularly veterans.
Music therapy services are available to veterans of all wars, including Iraq and Afghanistan. With the guidance of trained, board certified music therapists, veterans can overcome whatever issues they may be facing.
Here are four ways that music therapy for veterans can make an impact:
1. Music Can Help Improve Communication
Often, veterans have difficulty with communication when they return from service. This can occur for several reasons. It may be that the veteran has psychological issues that prevent them from expressing themselves, such as PTSD. They may also have physical injuries that affect their speech.
Music therapy for veterans helps improve communication in multiple ways. By listening to music or learning to play an instrument, veterans have a new way to connect with other people. Music can enable them to express themselves in ways regular speech can’t.
Additionally, music therapy can help rehabilitate veterans with physical speech impediments. Singing, in particular, is a very effective way of retraining speech muscles and vocal production. The neural pathways that manage speech and singing are parallel, yet dissimilar. This is why stroke patients often have difficulty speaking yet can sing clearly. A trained music therapist can help veterans with speech issues by developing a treatment plan based around singing.
2. Music Based Treatments Assist with Cognitive Rehabilitation
Cognitive rehabilitation can be a long, difficult road for veterans of military service. Thankfully, music therapy has shown very promising results in healing people with cognitive issues or brain injuries. One effective type of music therapy treatment for cognitive rehabilitation is songwriting.
Composing a simple song requires multiple cognitive faculties. Songwriting trains patients to use rhythm, melody, and words. In some cases, music therapists can also tailor this type of treatment to address executive functioning abilities, such as decision making and coping mechanisms.
To write a song, the patient must set a goal, choose a topic, make a plan, and take the steps needed to finish it. All of these skills assist with cognitive rehabilitation.
Listening to music also aids in this process. Often, patients with cognitive problems have difficulty focusing for extended periods of time. Listening to a song encourages them to stay focused and engaged. If the patient’s attention wanders, the music therapist can gently remind them to remain on task.
Music therapy for veterans also helps with memory and learning new tasks.
3. Music Therapy for Veterans Heals Emotional and Social Problems
Music helps us connect. Whether it’s expressing yourself by writing or playing a song, or simply sharing your love of a particular band, music creates strong social bonds. For veterans, this can be a powerful form of therapy.
In some VA hospitals and medical centers, music therapy programs include support groups for veterans with PTSD to share music that reflects their feelings. These groups act as a musical “show and tell,” where members can practice relating to one another in a safe space through music.
Many veterans can experience emotional problems such as anger, anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. By working with a music therapist, they can process these emotions. One simple, yet powerful exercise invites the patient to listen to a song and then talk about how it makes them feel.
Certain types of music have also been shown to trigger specific emotional responses in the listener. Music therapy can thus be used to calm, induce joy, or encourage a healthy emotional release.
4. Music Therapy Treatment Rebuilds Physical Muscles and Coordination
Finally, many types of music can help veterans who need to rebuild muscle and coordination. Rhythmic movement such as dancing or tapping along to a beat improves motor skills, balance, and stamina. Learning an instrument can also help patients with certain types of hand injuries.
A type of therapy called Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) has shown success in patients who have difficulty walking. Veterans with TBI often face this issue. In RAS, the music therapist provides a strong, steady beat as the patient begins walking. They match the rhythm to the patient’s steps, which trains their motor system and gradually helps them walk more smoothly and more quickly
Providing Lasting Healing for Veterans
Music therapy for veterans provides lasting healing that makes a powerful impact on service members and their families. It’s one of the many ways music enriches our lives. To learn more about the benefits of music and learning to play an instrument, visit Music and Arts.