Music evokes powerful emotions and can bring back old memories. While music therapy can be beneficial to people in recovery, it can also be a trigger for negative or unwanted emotions. We all have at least one song that marks an important period in our lives, whether it be a memory we are thrilled to reminisce on or one that brings great pain. It is a subconscious process that associates our memories with sound. Often, for people who have had difficult moments in their lives, this association can result in an uncomfortable wave of painful emotions.
How Does Music Affect Memories?
Music is an incredible powerhouse in our memories. Studies have shown that songs are an effective tool for recall in people with illnesses that affect memory, like dementia. Enjoying music is a universal human experience. Even animals and plants react to different sound frequencies. It is no surprise that songs can have such a significant effect on our moods.
When we listen to songs, the sound waves that we hear stimulate different areas of the brain and can even increase brain connectivity. When familiar songs play, it activates the brain’s reward systems, amygdala and hippocampus. Our reward system heavily influences feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, while the amygdala and hippocampus play important roles in memory formation. These areas, when working together, can solidify a memory with a song.
What Is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is an evidence-based treatment modality that uses music to help clients process and achieve their recovery goals. Music therapy can involve listening to or creating different tunes.
- Lower stress levels
- Increases in memory and cognition
- Higher quality and more consistent sleep
- Improved moods and emotional regulation
- Lessening feelings of anxiety and depression
- Increased creativity
- Guiding in the processing of traumatic events
- Increased self-expression and reflection
These therapy sessions can look any number of ways. Techniques are often individualized to fit client needs. Music therapy can involve singing or humming childhood songs with a therapist and discussing the emotions that are provoked. It can also look like creating a song regarding a trauma or internal conflict.
There does not need to be any prior musical training to engage in music therapy. Any and all people, regardless of age, gender, or background, can benefit from this therapy. Regardless of musical talent, this kind of therapy has a far-reaching cathartic effect.
How Music Can Be Triggering
Similarly, listening to music from the past can also be a very triggering experience. Many of us have songs that remind us of certain people, places, or emotions. When these feelings are left unprocessed, even just a few seconds of a familiar song can bring a rush of pain to a person.
For example, a person dealing with addiction might have played a certain song before engaging in substance use. Now when that same song plays, it may bring back dark memories. Many of the rituals and habits may come flooding back, and it can be difficult to overcome.
However, the memories associated with familiar tunes are not always dark ones. There can be positive memories of partying with friends, or even a good family reunion or gathering might arise. It is not the song that will force a person to begin to use substances again, but for many people in recovery, these bubbling memories can be very tempting.
Some in recovery may choose to avoid certain types of music altogether. Especially in newly recovered individuals, nostalgic tunes can have an unexpected adverse effect. When a person understands what triggers them, avoidance can help to prevent relapse.
Understanding why and how the strong emotional responses we have to sound and song affect us can be a great tool in recovery. Whether the relationship with songs from the past is a pleasant or painful one, knowing how to regulate the arousal and temptation that may come with familiar music can promote long-term recovery.
Deciding if Music Therapy Is Right for You
Music is a fundamental part of the spectrum of human emotion. It is a uniquely felt experience that can sometimes be indescribable. Usually, music offers comfort and escape for many people, but sometimes it can bring out feelings of pain and resentment for the past.
Music can get us out of dark times, but it can also remind us of them. It is important to process what is felt when hearing what used to be your favorite song or a catchy soundtrack that reminds you of a place or time. Music has its power as a trigger and a tool, but by understanding how the implications of both, you can further resilience and stay dedicated to recovery.
Music is a large part of many of our daily lives, but you do not have to feel haunted by memories of the past. At Destiny Recovery Center, we understand that recovery is never one size fits all. Our residential treatment program utilizes a variety of therapies to promote real change. Processing these emotions with art and music therapies can make challenging emotions easier to bear and open you up to newfound creativity. Our flexible and individual treatments focus on creating the best treatment plan for you. Don’t allow yourself to feel stuck in the past any longer. Call us today at (909) 413-4304 to learn about different treatment options.