By Rick McVicar
A woman tells the story of how classical music has helped her recover from mental illness.
Donna Hall Keel writes about her experience in “Music in My Recovery Journey,” found on the Good Therapy website, Feb. 4, 2004.
“I have struggled with mental illness all my life. Music has been medicine for my emotions, soul and body. When I am feeling overwhelmed, feeling lost and full of doubt… Music makes me feel better,” Hall writes.
For her, Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” is especially helpful.
Keel’s collection of classical records was a big part of her college life at Miami University of Ohio. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts She later moved to Denver, Colo.
Keel writes that she has fond memories of learning to play the piano as a child. A record player gave impetus to her musical experience.
The use of music for brain health recovery can be commonly found among individual persons coping with difficulties. The specific ways in which music can help are carefully being studied for caregivers to appropriately use music in therapy.
For instance, Janne B. Damsgaard in “Music Activities and Mental Health Recovery,” has conducted a literature review to summarize various studies.
Music helps with recovery by instilling hope as well as offering a sense of belonging, especially when one sings or plays in a group setting. Music can embolden a person’s identity and improve self-esteem in the face of stigma, Damsgaard writes.
However, caution must be used, as music can have negative effects. For instance, a focus on nostalgia can bring rumination while too much time with sad songs can worsen symptoms of depression.
Nevertheless, the positive effects appear to outweigh the negative. In fact, listening to sad songs can be positive when listeners transfer their own feelings into the songs, offering a haven for negative feelings. The effects of music are different for each person, Damsgaard states.
The researcher offers a description of someone with mental illness who sang in a choir and took dance lessons. The person felt a “spiral of positive experiences of joy, hope, agency and social inclusion,” Damsgaard writes (p. 5).
The article can be found in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2021.
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