Music Therapy for Addiction

Music Therapy for Addiction

by Steve Rees

Recently, I received an email from Wanda Blair, the main editor at The Grove Estate ( She made note of a recent article I published both in Masters of Health Magazine and my website:
She informed me that her team had just published a comprehensive article on “Music Therapy for Addiction: Emotional Balance, Recovery” and offered to share it with this publication. I refer you to her article here:
Her first paragraph starts out with, “Music therapy emerges as a powerful ally, providing a harmonious blend of emotional support and creative expression. It serves as a non-verbal avenue for individuals to navigate the complexities of addiction, offering a therapeutic space for emotional exploration and healing. This approach, integrating melody and rhythm, plays a pivotal role in enhancing traditional recovery methods, striking a chord in the journey towards emotional balance and recovery.” I will let you link to that article for further reading.
As she made me aware of the Grove Treatment Center and their use of music therapy successfully with their clients, I thought it might be a great idea to focus on some other sources highlighting the importance of using music therapy for treatment of addictive behaviors and substances.
A study published in PubMed: was performed to determine what percentage of treatment programs used music therapy as a viable treatment modality. They determined that approximately 15 % of all treatment programs were using some form of music therapy regularly and this is expected to grow as the effectiveness is demonstrated.
“The idea is to help patients tap into emotions and needs that may be difficult to express through more traditional forms of communication. Furthermore, music therapy also provides a way to motivate patients to receive treatment. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) states that music therapy is useful regardless of musical background, and examples of clinical music therapy include lyric analysis, relaxation training, songwriting, musical games, and improvising music based on emotions or other topics relevant to treatment. In these treatments, patients go beyond simply listening to music to engage emotions, motivations, and barriers to recovery through lyrics and melody.”
An article in American Music Therapy Association’s publication explained some of the science behind music therapy for treating addiction:
“Music Therapy is part of an integrated approach to treatment for addiction. Music therapy for substance abuse recovery is the use of music and therapeutic relationship to promote connection to self and motivation to change while learning to navigate life in sobriety. Active music-making, as well as music listening, has been shown to activate the dopaminergic pathways in a similar manner as many illicit substances. This response may reduce cravings and improve mood. Music listening also calms the parasympathetic nervous system which facilitates relaxation and decreases anxiety.”
There are some cautions, “for the use of music in addiction treatment which include the possibility of music serving as a trauma trigger or as a trigger for use and increased cravings. Therefore, it is helpful, when possible, to have a complete music history when working with individuals and to be aware of how these triggers or traumatic responses can present.”
Interestingly enough, I found a book titled, “Music Therapy and Addictions” by David Aldridge and Jorg Fachner. It is available in most book outlets. The introduction to the book states, “Recent studies show that music can reach the parts of the human brain that are linked to addiction and can function as an integral part of recovery. This research-based, practical book demonstrates how music and music therapy can be applied in a variety of treatment settings to bring about therapeutic change.”
American Addiction Centers has a website that is very informative. Music Therapy & Substance Abuse Treatment ( They indicate that music therapy is useful for many settings including:
· Enhancing the person’s emotional adjustment
· Improving physical health and mental wellbeing by relieving stress
· Developing communication skills
· Focusing on the development of particular aspects of cognitive functioning, such as attention or memory
· Trying to enhance the person’s social functioning by getting them involved with others with similar music interests.
” In substance use disorder treatment, clients may use music in a variety of ways. For example, they might use music to:
· Deal with cravings, to reduce the effects of stressful situations, and to deal with issues of remorse or regret regarding decisions the person has made in the past when they were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
· Cope with negative emotions, such as guilt, anxiety, depression, or anger.
· Develop coping strategies to deal with future situations that may arise.
· Explore inner feelings regarding motivation or self-esteem.
· Enhance current mood or to relieve boredom.”

The website goes on to list treatment centers throughout the USA that use music therapy as one of the modalities for the course of treatment.
I had a note sent to me from one of my YouTube listeners that shared with me his story. He said that he had been under addiction with drugs for years and had tried to stop but without success. Somehow, he found my music and started listening to it regularly for hours at a time. One day he noticed that he didn’t have the cravings anymore. He believed that listening to the calming harp music made all the difference for his successful return to normal life and he was profusely thankful.
As I continue to research the various ways that music plays such critical roles in our lives, I am always amazed. Something so simple, yet so powerful and useful for bringing us back to health and vitality. It’s no wonder that music has been a part of every culture since the beginning of time. Somehow, our mind, spirit, and body know that we need it as well as enjoy it and love it.
One of my friends, Angel Storm, PhD, who operates a coaching practice, recently interviewed my wife and me. She told us that she is using my music to work with people who are stuck in their thought processes when dealing with narcissistic behavior from people they are associated with. It seems that music helps them be able to rewire their reactions and approach their situations with much more clarity and objectivity.
I’m sure there are many more stories out there that would convince us that the use of music as therapy for addictive behavior is a reliable and viable modality. The wonderful thing about using music is that it really doesn’t cost much, and it is enjoyable. Even if you don’t have an addictive behavior, you still can’t go wrong listening to music! It has many known and unknown benefits.

Pythagoras – Father of Music Therapy

Pythagoras – Father of Music Therapy

Many of us remember the Pythagorean Theorem from our high school algebra days. But did you know that Pythagoras, besides being a brilliant mathematician, was also a musician?  Many therapy practitioners consider him to be the “Father of Music Therapy.” I would like to explore some history and see how this came about. The key thought here is that music and sound have been utilized for healing for much longer than most people think.

Just because our current medical system is just now starting to pay attention to the power of music to heal, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been understood and used for millennia. We even find reference in scripture to King David, before he became king, playing his harp to King Saul whenever he had a “troubling spirit” come over him, and the music would relieve the king of that trouble. David even predates Pythagoras by about 500 years, since he lived around 1000 B.C.

Pythagoras lived from 570 -490 B.C. according to the historical record. Wikipedia states that he was known for his expertise in mathematics, ethics, music theory, metaphysics, mysticism, politics, and religion. The bio lists some of his accomplishments.  “In antiquity, Pythagoras was credited with many mathematical and scientific discoveries, including the Pythagorean theorem, Pythagorean tuning, the five regular solids, the Theory of Proportions, the sphericity of the Earth, and the identity of the morning and evening stars as the planet Venus. It was said that he was the first man to call himself a philosopher (“lover of wisdom”) and that he was the first to divide the globe into five climatic zones.” Some historians debate whether he made all those contributions, however.

It is agreed by classical historians that the area of music was one of his most significant contributions. “Pythagoras of Samos, Greece, was not only one of the greatest mathematicians and philosophers of all time, but he was also an extremely accomplished musician. His instrument of choice was the kithara which is an ancient form of the guitar. He also sang whilst he played his music. He was known to be able to soothe both animals and people with his music and he came to recognize the effect that his music had on the senses and the emotions of those people that he played for. He eventually came to call it ‘musical medicine.”

It is also credited to Pythagoras that he identified specific types and genres of music that facilitated desired physiological effects. For example, he recommended slow rhythmic music to help calm an agitated person as well as assist in preparing to retire for the night to sleep. He also prescribed “happy music” to apply when waking in the morning to help rouse the energy that would be needed for the day’s activities.

A story is told about a young man who, “had had a few too many drinks and was filled with jealousy and placed some kindling about his mistress’s door with the plans to burn her house down. However, the young man was distracted by a flutist who was nearby playing a tune in the Phrygian mode. Pythagoras encouraged the musician to play a rhythmic mode, which made the intoxicated young man suddenly become composed and return home after first gathering his kindling from his mistress’s door.”

How Pythagorean Works on Sound Healing

As Pythagoras shared his observations and theories, many health practitioners began to put these ideas into practice. “In ancient Greece, patients recovering from illness could leave their rooms to attend musical performances to assist in their healing and quick recovery…. Plato believed that all our senses were gifted to us by God to speak to our souls in a pleasurable way through the vibration of music. The word ‘music’ comes from the Muses, the daughters of Zeus who were the patron goddesses of creative and intellectual endeavors. Music and singing are important practices.”

Healing with Music: How Music Therapy was Adopted in Ancient Greece to Heal Mind, Body and Spirit

In his capacity as “the father of music”, Pythagoras discovered musical intervals and taught that you could heal using sound and harmonic frequencies. He was the first person to prescribe music as medicine.

“Pythagoras stated each celestial body every atom, produces a particular sound on account of its movement, its rhythm, or vibration. All these sounds and vibrations form a universal harmony in which each element, while having its function and character, contributes to the whole. Pythagoras was the first person to use the word cosmos and applied the above theory to the whole cosmos, where, he said each planet, and each sphere had its note, referred to as ‘music of the spheres.’ Flowing from this he affirmed music is present everywhere and governs all temporal cycles, such as seasons, biological cycles, and all the rhythms of nature.” Of note is the idea that even though these vibrations may be outside our audible capacity, they do exist, nevertheless.

With advancing technology and the ability to measure different cell frequencies and astronomical phenomena, Pythagoras’ vision is fast becoming a modern-day reality. Plato, who was a student of Pythagoras said, “Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.”

Pythagoras did not have the advantage of the various instruments and technologies that are available to us today, yet many of his observations were accurate and are now being proven with the technology that is available today.

“In his investigation of therapeutic sound frequencies, Pythagoras discovered that the seven keys of the Greek system of music had the power to incite various emotions. Above all, certain melodies devised as remedies against the passions of the soul describe the therapeutic music of Pythagoras. Pythagorean Harmonic Healing remedied sadness and lamentation. Hence rage and anger were often cured with therapeutic sound frequencies….

Pythagoras recognized the profound effect of music on the senses and emotions. What he termed “musical medicine” had a great influence on the body and mind. Stringed interments interested Pythagoras greatly.” He even went so far as to believe that other types of instruments were not as beneficial.

“One of his most important discoveries was that the harmonic musical intervals could be expressed by perfect numerical ratios. Pythagoras used various Pythagorean Harmonic Healing compositions as a “medicine” for diseases of the body, mind, and soul. Through therapeutic sound frequencies, Pythagoras performed what he called soul adjustments.”

Pythagoras had a profound impact on the care of diseased patients using music in his time in history. As he shared his knowledge, techniques, and observations, a whole school of musical training and discipline emerged. The discoveries and modes of practice that he developed are currently gaining new attention in our modern medical establishment and our emerging technologies are providing us with scientific proof of many of the concepts Pythagoras intuitively knew and developed. Truly, he has earned the title of “Father of Healing Music.”

Music for Life

Music for Life

There are many benefits we can realize from having music in our lives. Music helps us relax, and even fall asleep. Music helps us celebrate special occasions. A concert gives us a sense of elevation as we listen to the trained musicians performing classical pieces that have been handed down through time. Every culture is blessed with various genres of music that help express that culture’s uniqueness within the global community. Music helps us express our feelings. Music is what feelings sound like.

Another aspect of music is that it helps us understand how we can relate to each other in harmony. As we consider the complexity of a full orchestra with all of the various instruments and musicians that each contribute their part, we can have a sense of what type of cooperation we need to conduct life successfully within our communities.

We each have a different “instrument” to play. We each need to become skilled in “playing” our instruments. We need to follow the conductor’s leadership in bringing the whole collection together in a life performance that will be in harmony and timed well for the presentation of the piece that we have all come together to perform.

I was cruising through YouTube the other day and came across this video of a speech from Dr. Jordan Peterson.

Dr. Peterson was addressing the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship conference of approximately 1500 people from all over the world who had come together to discuss the possible solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. Problems of poverty, environment, health, economics, and others were discussed with many solutions being offered. Dr. Peterson was giving the closing speech, and his challenge went beyond the particular solutions that had been presented throughout the conference. I would recommend that you listen to the speech in its entirety.

Dr. Peterson laid out the path for maturing into responsible citizens of our families, communities, states, countries, and ultimately, the world. As children, we start by being very self-focused. Hopefully, we are guided out of that into a state of beginning to realize our connection with those around us. That “guiding” begins to help us learn to serve those around us. We begin to see the needs of those we are connected with and look for ways to meet those needs in service.

As we mature, those “others” become an ever-widening circle. Our gaze should become broader; more focused on others and less focused on ourselves. Like in an orchestra, we find more “different” others to be in harmony with and the fullness of the music we produce becomes richer and more complex.

Dr. Petrson indicated that most of the societal problems of today are a result of people being brought up with their eyes focused on themselves. They are worried about what they don’t have. They are taken up with their “identities” or what they look like or think they are supposed to look like. They are caught up in trying to keep up with the latest fashion trends or social fads, and become upset if they find themselves out of step with what is considered the “must haves,” or they begin to think there is something wrong with themselves if they are not experiencing the same phenomena as their peers.

His challenge was for parents to take on the task of training their children to learn to serve others; to take the focus off of themselves and become more involved in observing others’ needs. He also challenged those who were already responsible adults to commit to becoming more “other aware.” There is a great need for more of us to take on the task of realizing other people’s needs; to take on what he termed, “the weight of the world.”

He gave an illustration of the biblical Jacob’s ladder which connected this earth to that higher world of the heavenly existence. This is an existence that has no poverty, environmental trouble, disease, or social strains. He showed that as we become more aware of those around us and that circle enlarges, we climb higher up the ladder toward that better world.

Dr. Peters pointed out that this climb is predominantly spiritual. It is made by committing to developing our spiritual sense of responsibility toward the others that fall within our sphere of influence. It must be engaged by choice rather than accidentally happening and it takes work and energy.

The music metaphor is powerful to help us understand how we can successfully relate to each other.  If we can see ourselves as members of the larger “orchestra” and understand what our part to play is, following the directions of the conductor, that cohesiveness will produce the harmony and masterpiece that the world has been looking for.

Instead of looking for what other people need to do to help the world become a better place, Dr. Peterson challenged each one of us to take on the responsibility of what we can do personally. As we point at other people, more fingers are pointing back at ourselves than at others. The responsibility is ours, not someone else’s. The best program will be our responsibility to “take on the weight of the world.”

Dr. Peterson closed his remarks with an amazing statement. I believe that it sums up the true course and the only course that will make a difference.

“As a responsible citizen, bearing the weight of the world on our shoulders, we obliterate the need for tyrants and slaves alike.”

Think about it!

How Does Music Calm?

How Does Music Calm?

I received an email from a listener to my YouTube channel this morning that gave me a direction for this article. Over the years I have had many people comment on the calming effects of the harp music that I offer on my channel:    Calming Harp

This message was especially noteworthy as the contrast between “with the music” and “without the music” was so remarkable. It was also clear that there was no opportunity for conscious influence as the person was “not rousable.” The effects were purely physiological. I will share the email with you and then look at some research that helps explain this wonderful effect.

“Dear Steve,

I wrote on your YouTube channel under David Harp and Psalms (almost 3 hours of harp music) back in June regarding how this really blessed my family when my father was dying. Prior to your music playing, my father was barely conscious and not rousable but very agitated. It was very distressing for everyone to watch. Almost immediately when I started playing your music he settled right down and became relaxed. Whilst the music played, he relaxed and when it stopped, he became agitated again. It was such a blessing that I was able to play your music for him so that it was peaceful at the end. I thank YHWH (God) for your music during this difficult time.”

Under this music –

I will take some information from an article published in Medical News Today:

This article looks at the discipline of music therapy and the different ways it affects the mind and body of the listener. Music therapy is now being used in many different settings including mental health, Alzheimer’s units, senior care centers, nurseries, birthing centers – and many other applications.

In dealing with anxiety, the article states, “Many studies suggest that music therapy can reduce feelings of anxiety, including in people with cancer, those undergoing surgery, and individuals going into intensive care units. Some studies also suggest that music can reduce blood pressure and the heartbeat, which can have a direct impact on how stressed a person feels.

There is also evidence to suggest that those undergoing music therapy experience reduced anxiety immediately after the session, which indicates that music therapy could be a convenient way to reduce symptoms quickly.

Music affects the amount of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, that the body releases, and reducing these hormones can help relieve symptoms of anxiety.”

It was also noted in the article that music therapy offers a non-verbal pathway to reach a person who may not be able to verbalize. The brain processes the sounds of the music without the need for verbal cues.

Quoting again, “The way that music affects the brain is very complex. All aspects of music — including pitch, tempo, and melody — are processed by different areas of the brain.

For instance, the cerebellum processes rhythm, the frontal lobes decode the emotional signals created by the music, and a small portion of the right temporal lobe helps understand pitch.

The reward center of the brain, called the nucleus accumbens, can even produce strong physical signs of pleasure, such as goosebumps when it hears powerful music.”

It is important to note that it does not necessarily require a Certified Music Therapist to achieve these benefits. If one is available, that is all the better. But many times, one is not available and that should not stop a family from using recorded music to realize some of these benefits. The family referred to in the email was using music that was available on the internet.

The key here is that there is a wonderful effect that music can offer in helping an agitated person to calm down. I even have people tell me frequently that they use it to calm their children down so they will go to sleep for a nap or keep them calmer during a road trip in the car.

Others tell me they use it for their pets. One person told me that as soon as the music started, their family dog went over by the speaker and laid down to go to sleep. Another testimony was of a woman who used my music while she milked her goats to keep them from kicking over the milk bucket.

Other articles I have written have shown that the rhythm of the music helps to “entrain” the heart into a slower pace and bring the blood pressure down. The slower pace helps the whole body and its functions to slow as well. My sister keeps a CD in her car that she calls her “go to CD” for whenever she feels herself ramping up with anxiety.

Next time you find yourself, or a family member or friend in need of slowing down, remember that music is a very effective way to slow down the rhythm and bring some sanity into an otherwise chaotic situation. Try it next time. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Music Benefits Animals Too

Music Benefits Animals Too

by Steve Rees, Ret. RN, Harpist

Music has had many beneficial effects on humans. Each day, I receive comments on my YouTube channel ( about how people have been helped by the calming effects of the harp music videos that I offer. I was a bit surprised one day when I received a comment from one of my listeners that their dog had been calmed by my harp music. They told me that the dog had been very hyperactive, and they didn’t know what to do. One of them had the idea of putting some of my music on the stereo to see what happened. They told me that their dog immediately went over to one of the speakers, laid down, and went to sleep. Awesome!
Another amazing report came sometime later from a friend that raised goats. She milked them to sell the milk and make various goat milk products. She told me that the goats were quite skittish and would often kick a half-filled bucket over wasting the milk that had already been collected. One day, she decided to play one of my CDs during the milking process. She reported that she hasn’t lost a bucket of milk since. She said that the goats just settled down and ate calmly during the milking process – Total transformation.
I have received several other testimonies along the way. So, I decided to do a little research to see if this phenomenon had been noticed or documented by anyone else or another source. That lead me to an online site, Animal Wellness Magazine. One article I will be quoting from was written by Susan Wagner, DVM on January 5, 2016,
One of the first things to remember about animals, especially dogs, is that their hearing range is quite different than a human range. Humans range from 20 Hertz to about 20,000 Hertz. A dog’s range is 40 to 65,000 Hertz. That means that a dog can hear high sounds that humans cannot hear. The sound is there but we cannot discern it because our ears cannot translate that fast of a vibration into a meaningful auditory signal to our brain, so it doesn’t register as sound to us.
But a dog’s ear can translate that high pitch of a sound into a usable auditory signal, therefore, identifying the sound. We can demonstrate that with the use of a dog whistle. When we blow on it, we don’t hear anything, but a dog does hear and comes running, or maybe begins to howl.
We also notice that animals are more sensitive to sound than humans. For instance, a dog starts to bark when a car enters the property well ahead of when the human hears the car coming. Also, we note that a dog may run for hiding when thunder is sounding off, or howl when an instrument is being played such as a trumpet. They hear differently.
But there are similarities with the effects of music on animals. Dr. Wagner went on to make these observations in her article. “The effects of music have been well documented in humans, and studies with domestic and other animals have revealed that music also has a powerful effect on them. For example, studies showed that country music can calm ponies while classical music helped cows produce more milk and improved the growth rate of chickens. A recent study on cats demonstrated that calming music increased the depth of anesthesia during surgery. Dolphins, meanwhile, have been known to swim in synchrony to Bach.”
She went on to note, “A study done in Ireland found that classical music is the preferred calming sound source in dog shelters. Research done by Through a Dog’s Ear took this a step further and applied the principles of resonance, entrainment, and the orienting response to classical music selections. It discovered that slow, psychoacoustically arranged single-instrument (piano) music had the most calming effects. Upwards of 70% of dogs in shelters and veterinary offices, and 85% of dogs in home environments, became noticeably calmer with this music. It was also found to reduce twice as many anxiety behaviors in fearful dogs as standard classical selections did. Many animal shelters are now benefiting from programs that provide calming music for their residents.”
As we understand the benefits of calming music for our animals and pets, it is important to also consider their level of sensitivity to sound. Since their hearing is more acute than our own, Dr. Wagner recommends that we take special care to analyze the sound sources in our home environment. Are there sound sources that might be acceptable for us but are upsetting for our pets? Have we gotten used to some sound sources that can be harmful to our animals?
With the knowledge of these studies, we can control the sound environment of our homes by reducing some of the more harmful sound sources and introducing some of the calming sources such as the music suggested above. I could put in a recommendation for the music of my calming harp too.
One more story comes from a friend of mine in Ohio that operates a pet spa. Owners drop off their pets to receive grooming and cleaning, then come by a few hours later to pick up their pets. She told me that she plays my harp music every day, softly in the background. One day an owner picked up their pet, and they asked her, “What are you doing to my pet? Every time I pick them up, they are so calm!”. She told them about the music, and they were amazed.
In the final analysis, if music has been demonstrated through multiple studies to benefit humans, it is reasonable to expect it to be beneficial for our family pets and animals as well? I could show you YouTube video after video of animals responding to music. It is natural, and it’s a part of life. Music benefits Life for animals too!