Musical therapist plays guitar for patient in the hospital

Emily Pivovarnik is a music therapist with MU's Child Life Program & Music Therapy. Music therapy can be especially helpful for children in the hospital.

Music has the power to move, and it has the power to heal. Music therapy uses this power to connect your emotions with a form of expression.

Giving Song, a local company that offers music therapy services to individuals, groups and schools in the area, uses song to give back to help clients improve their well-being. It tailors musical experiences to each individual or group.

“(Music) allows us to access areas of the brain that we can’t do with talk therapy that you can’t do with just general speech therapy at times,” says Giving Song CEO Kristin Veteto.

Although it also incorporates traditional therapy, the musical version requires you to engage more of yourself, not just your intellect. Dancing, for example, encourages a physical release of emotions. This allows clients to use music with intention, which allows them to find the deeper meaning and how they relate to it. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is a form of treatment in which music is used to help address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs.

Although music therapy can be used to help a number of needs, it is commonly used for those with mental health conditions such as depression, trauma and schizophrenia. MU’s Child Life Program & Music Therapy uses music to help hospitalized children better understand their surroundings and express their feelings.

Getting better all the time

Music is a universal experience that surpasses barriers such as language or cognitive ability, which also makes it easier to practice on your own, says Emily Pivovarnik, an MU music therapist.

“I don’t really have to fight for music because, for the most part, everyone has a relationship with music,” Pivovarnik says. “Music is something that they can relate to, and they’ve used a certain kind of music or a certain singer to process a hard time.”

This universality rings true for both therapists and clients. MU music theory professor Neil Minturn says music was an outlet for him to relieve the pain and grief after his dad died.

“I dealt with the grief partly by just hanging out at the piano and playing,” Minturn says. “Music was providing me a comfort I wouldn’t otherwise have had.”

The healing has begun

Since the start of the pandemic, about 4 in 10 American adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, a startling increase from the 1 in 10 adults reporting these symptoms from January to June 2019, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

If paid therapy is not an option, there are still impactful ways to incorporate music into your life for self-care and mental health.

Listening to music throughout the day allows you to engage with it purposefully. If there are specific songs or genres you like, Veteto recommends listening to them in between work and home, even if those are the same place. This can help you be more present and distinguish the two places. She also recommends listening to calming music before bed and more upbeat, energetic music while waking up or working out.

“[It’s] really making sure that you’re being intentional about the choices in music that you’re using to support your overall wellness,” Veteto says. 

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Emma Boyle is a junior at the University of Missouri-Columbia studying journalism and international studies. You can reach her at emmakboyle@umsystem.edu.

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