Content reviewed by Nicholas G. B, Executive Director at New Hope Ranch

As many people may already know, music directly impacts emotions. People often listen to fast-paced music to stimulate their workout, while others listen to classical music as a study aid. Music is also known to treat pain and reduce stress. An unavoidable link connects music to physiological, cognitive and emotional well-being.

Music therapy is a clinical and evidence-based treatment intervention that recognizes the power of music as a therapeutic healing aid. Music therapy is currently used in numerous treatment centers around the United States, helping to address a variety of healthcare and treatment goals, including:

  • Promoting overall health and wellness
  • Managing stress and addiction
  • Enhancing emotional expression
  • Improving communication
  • Treating specific mental health conditions, such as depression

A unique population of individuals that may benefit from music therapy are first responders. First responders experience high-stress demands and situations, putting them at higher risks of substance use and associated disorders. It is vital to recognize the impact that music therapy can have on the lives of first responders and those who struggle with the long-term effects of stress and addiction.

Why Are First Responders at Risk of Developing Substance Use Disorders?

Firefighters, paramedics, public safety officers and other emergency personnel are at risk of developing substance use disorders. Their jobs are physically straining due to prolonged and intense hours and are mentally and emotionally exhausting. First responders are constantly exposed to challenging and sometimes life-threatening situations. This constant exposure to devastation combined with physical strain can negatively impact overall mental health.

Despite the high level of importance placed on mental health in the careers of first responders, there is still an undeniable stigma associated with first responders seeking mental health treatment. People that devote their lives to providing immediate care, support and assistance to individuals immediately after a disaster want to believe they will always be resilient and mentally capable of doing so. Fear of being seen as weak or unable to complete the job can keep many first responders from seeking mental health help. In turn, first responders may resort to alcohol and other drugs as a way to self-medicate and experience temporary relief from their distress.

While self-medicating may seem like an effective way to experience emotional relief, it only exacerbates mental health symptoms over time. People who self-medicate are more likely to experience chemical dependency and addiction, making recovery even more challenging.

What to Expect From a Music Therapy Program

Music therapy programs vary by treatment center. A music therapist generally leads the music therapy session with one person or a group. The therapist will attempt to form a close bond during sessions to improve their confidence, communication skills and overall awareness.

While music therapy programs may vary, sessions may also vary. During sessions, a music therapist will guide you through one or more of the following:

  • Creating or composing music: You may have the opportunity to create your music with an instrument or write lyrics with a melody played aloud.
  • Singing: You may be encouraged to use your voice and sing to express the emotions that you feel inside.
  • Listening to music: Sometimes, a session may involve sitting and listening to music with full awareness. You may be encouraged to listen to a song and discuss how that song makes you feel.
  • Dancing: Music therapy may require you to engage in movement. It can be as simple as clapping your hands or snapping your fingers, although it could also mean getting up and dancing.

How Music Therapy Can Aid in Stress Management for First Responders

Before music therapy sessions, your therapist may encourage you to talk about your personal strengths and weaknesses, interpersonal struggles and what you are looking to get from treatment. For first responders specifically, you and your therapist may create treatment goals anchored in stress management and substance use prevention.

While there are long-term goals for music therapy, there are also short-term goals for each session. After a session, your therapist will likely evaluate the effectiveness to help create a plan for future ones. Over time, you may find that music therapy helps you with stress management and addiction prevention and strengthens your abilities in many other areas of your life. Music therapy can help with:

  • Combatting insomnia
  • Encouraging emotional awareness
  • Releasing repressed emotions
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Boosting mood and energy
  • Encouraging self-expression

Stress management can be achieved through music therapy. Practicing mindfulness during treatment sessions is critical and is encouraged by therapists. Just as there are essential steps first responders must take before, during and after devastating events, there are also comparable steps relating to musical therapy sessions. While music therapists will assist you in learning how to recognize and manage your own emotions, especially under stressful situations, there is an incredible opportunity for first responders to engage with music as a coping mechanism outside of the treatment setting.

New Hope Ranch is an addiction treatment center that recognizes the value of music therapy in recovery. We offer a first responders program to help our heroes recover from substance use disorders and learn healthier stress management techniques. To learn more about our first responder’s program or our facility, please call us today at (737) 600-8565.