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How Music Therapy Supports Eating Disorder Recovery and Mental Health Treatment

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

Music therapist Haleigh Beaird shares how music therapy supports recovery from eating disorders and other mental illnesses. Plus, Haleigh shares a special holiday recovery playlist to help you reduce stress during this busy time of the year.

Listening to music is something many of us do every day; it can help us relax or provide a pleasant distraction from our surroundings.

Listening to music can be powerful — I’m sure we can all agree on that; just think about how you feel when you listen to your favorite songs or see your favorite musician playing live. However, listening to music is not the same as music therapy.

Listening to music does not involve the therapeutic process and guidance that a Board-Certified Music Therapist can provide. Nor does music listening offer the support needed to help those in difficult situations — such as individuals with eating disorders or other mental illnesses.

What is music therapy?

The American Music Therapy Association describes music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” *

Music therapy is unique in that it incorporates strategies implemented by, or under, a Board-Certified Music Therapist. Music therapy is researched, tested, and planned to target a client’s specific needs — in order to reach a desired outcome.

Music therapy for eating disorder recovery I am fortunate to do music therapy with individuals in an eating disorder clinic. In my work, I like to take a very person-centered approach. This means that I may have an idea of what I would like to work on that day with the group — but the group members determine which route we actually take once I arrive. These are a few reasons of why I believe it is important to have an “organic” session in a music therapy setting like this:

  1. It supports group members’ needs — What if I planned to address confidence and control — but everyone in the therapy group is having high anxiety that day? It may not be appropriate to discuss issues of confidence and control; the group members may even tell me they are in need of relaxation.

  2. It allows unstructured expression — In an eating disorder treatment center, the daily structure is quite strict. Everything throughout the day is scheduled for patients. While there are free times, there is still an order to the day. I know that, throughout the recovery process, this structure is so important, but I like to use my hour with patients as a time that they can use the way they need to — possibly allowing for some “unstructured expression.”

  3. It helps group members meet their goals — I like to think about working to meet the goals of the individuals I am working with — and what they are requiring in a given moment or day. I believe in relinquishing some of the control of group sessions to the patients in the group; this is so important to the recovery process.

Music therapy and mental health treatment Many times, when working with individuals who are battling an eating disorder or other mental health illnesses, I see the following symptoms:

  • Stress

  • Anxiety

  • Trouble socializing

  • Depression

  • Low self-esteem

  • Trouble expressing oneself

  • Flat affect

  • Trouble coping

  • Pain

These symptoms play a huge role in deciding how I can use music therapy to support each individual’s recovery process — and what approaches may be most appropriate. Some musical approaches I may use therapeutically in groups to address their specific needs include the following:

  • Songwriting

  • Lyric analysis

  • Active music making

  • Clinical improvisation

  • Music-assisted relaxation

  • Group singing

  • Role playing using music as means of communication

A musical gift for you

The holidays are quickly approaching and I know this can be a difficult time in the recovery process.

I want to provide you all with an eating disorder recovery playlist on Spotify for your personal use this season.

Our Holiday Recovery Playlist provides you with a music listening experience that may help to alleviate some of the stressors of the holidays. You can listen to the playlist on car trips, during times of high stress, or if you are just needing to get away from the pressure of everything. Access the playlist here:

I chose classical music for this playlist because classical music has been tested and proven to help us recover from fatigue, depression, anxiety, affect, memory and much more. Eating Recovery Center’s other playlists are more based on pop music but you can definitely explore our holiday playlist to gain a different therapeutic music experience.

Listen to it and let us know what you think!

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to posting more in the near future!

*The American Music Therapy Association shares resources and insight into what music therapy can offer and how you can find a music therapist in your area.

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