Why A Therapist Recommends Playing Guitar To Mental Health Patients


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Having a therapist for a sister, I know how difficult this profession can be. After all, your job is to assist individuals in dealing with conditions that no one – not even the professionals with decades of experience – can offer a long-term cure for. Since the illnesses of the patients are incomparable to common colds, diabetes or even cancer that has a physical manifestation, every treatment tends to follow the trial-and-error method. Meaning, if exercise 1 does not work, you move on to exercise 2. If that cannot provide relief to the person’s troubled mind still, you opt for exercises 3, 4, etc.

When all else fails, my sister tends to recommend learning how to play guitar to the patients. At first, I could not fathom the logic behind it. I was like, “Hmm, so can it be any form of a guitar? What about the brand, does it matter, too?” Such questions undoubtedly earned a frown from the therapist in the family, but she did enlighten me on why playing guitar can be beneficial for mental health patients.

1. It Promotes Calmness

The #1 triggering factor for most psychological disorders is stress. You can effortlessly acquire it when you need to study nonstop for your final exams, your boss announces that the business is doing well and so they will have to terminate people, or you are already old enough to get married yet you don’t even have a prospective partner. When various stressors hit you from all directions at once, you may not be able to contain the situation, and the stress activates your condition.


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Now, based on a 2005 study, making music in a recreational manner is said to reduce the stress level of the musicians at a genomic level. What it entails is that the effect of playing guitar can regulate the genes that are responsible for making you respond to stressors. Thus, once you practice using the instrument for at least an hour every day, nothing may bother you again, psychologically speaking.

2. It Improves Brain Function

“We’ve seen when you sing or play an instrument, it doesn’t just activate one part of your brain,” said Dr. Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. of the National Institutes of Health. “A whole constellation of brain areas becomes active. Our response to music is separate from other interventions such as asking people to recall memories or listen to another language.”

Any mental disorder that you have heard of (e.g., depression, anxiety, anorexia, mania, etc.) may have different symptoms and manifestations, but they are all the same in one respect. Each of them affects the normal brain function of an individual and alters their ability to make sound decisions, remember significant things, and understand real situations.

Playing guitar, nevertheless, is an activity that therapists suggest as new researches show that it can counter all those negativities. For one, music can sharpen your memory and increase your mental alertness. It also allows the blood to reach various parts of the brain, which helps you to feel more alive than ever. You will also be able to accomplish multiple tasks at once without getting overwhelmed. The more you practice with the instrument, therefore, the more your psychological health may improve.

“It actually modulates levels of the feel-good hormones dopamine and opioids in the brain, says Dr. Daniel Levitin, Ph.D., neuroscientist, musician, and consultant for Fender’s guitar-learning app Fender Play.


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3. It Encourages You To Socialize More

Have you seen buskers in the subway or on a sidewalk? These are typically the random musicians who sing and play their instruments in public. All the passersby are welcome to stop by to listen to them, dance, and even give some monetary donations. When you look at the situation from afar, it is as if everyone knows each other due to the way they sing and have fun together.

In reality, it is this kind of openness that most – if not all – mentally troubled people do not possess. They tend to isolate themselves from the world; that’s why no one can reach out and pull them out of the darkness immediately. They refuse to talk about their issues in front of their loved ones as well. Nonetheless, everything – including the emotions that you have bottled up inside – may come out through playing guitar. After all, music is a language in its own right, and you don’t always have to hear the lyrics to figure out the feelings of the musician. “Phone calls and digital communication, with friends or family members, do not have the same power as face-to-face social interactions in helping to stave off depression,” says Alan Teo, M.D., M.S., lead author, assistant professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University, and researcher at the VA Portland Health Care System.


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4. It Is An Excellent Form Of Distraction

Furthermore, being able to play the guitar is beneficial in times when you know that your condition is active. Considering you are already aware of your triggers, then you can tell when your anxiety or depression, for instance, is about to come. At that moment, you can reach for your guitar and start playing any song that comes to mind until your nerves calm down.

Using music as a form of distraction is more effective than smoking or doing drugs. As mentioned above, the tunes can travel to the parts of your brain that nothing else can go to. It will work even if you know that you are trying to distract yourself.

Final Musings

I hope you won’t take this advice as an excuse to avoid seeing a therapist. The truth is that you still need to talk to one to be able to know other forms of treatment that might also work for you. Music therapy is beneficial for some but not for all. Nevertheless, you are free to try playing guitar for healing purposes and seek the same perks above.

Good luck!