Music & Art Therapy For Treating Addictions In Women

“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. ” ~Berthold Auerbach


“Music was my refuge.  I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”  

 ~Maya Angelou, Gather Together in My Name

Music therapy is another alternative approach that has been shown as an effective adjunctive treatment for special populations such as females in treating addictions. In the past twenty years the increase in female addicts has increased steadily, especially among young females with children. Many females start to drink later in life, have greater proportions of medical conditions diagnosed by a physician, deteriorate physiologically faster than males, and resulting medical complications occur earlier within the addictive stages for females. Some medical conditions, including respiratory, heart, and digestive problems affect their ability to work or attend school. Even though females need medical treatment, many social factors like financial difficulty, childcare, and fear of child-custody loss deter females from seeking treatment that is critical to their physiological and psychological health. Researchers found significant differences for substance abuse between males, who use primarily for a positive mood state and females, who use to cope with negative mood and affect states, especially physical or emotional pain and a need to help problem solve.


Females in substance abuse rehabilitation had greater severe life problems than males, had significantly greater problem severity with lower mean income, were less likely to have been employed prior to incarceration, and had lower levels of education. More females than males reported depression and depressive symptoms. Incarcerated female substance abusers were more likely than males to have a lifetime diagnosis of depression and have a history of mental health problems, including a 33% lifetime depression rate compared to males’ 16% rate. Women experienced twice as much distress over current emotional and psychological issues at time of admission than men.


In an effort to understand female substance abuse patterns and to develop effective treatment strategies, researchers focused on the reasons for initiating substance use and themes related to substance abuse. Addiction onset was correlated to a stressful life event. Significant themes of violence and abuse including rape, incest, child abuse, domestic violence, and male dominance played a significant role in initiation and maintenance of addictions; lack of support and motherhood and parenting themes also occurred frequently. In several substance abuse treatment programs art and music therapy were critical components of the rehabilitation process.  It is especially important to note that within the non-threatening and non-confrontational setting of music therapy group’s clients in substance abuse treatment settings shared and revealed thoughts.


Through music therapy many patients confronted their addictions for the first time during the treatment process, especially during nonverbal expressive activities. Interventions used to treat clients in substance abuse rehabilitation programs included songwriting, lyric analysis, improvisation, music listening, and music playing. Music therapy programming included group cohesiveness and peer interaction, self-awareness and values clarification, relaxation and stress reduction, expression of feelings and emotions, problem solving, impulse control, cooperative work, verbal communication, and structured leisure time. Music therapy groups included within one substance abuse rehabilitation program to accomplish all areas of needs. Clients took risks and interacted on a variety of levels and found an alternative and constructive use of time during music therapy.


Group dynamics were important within the program; each member’s contribution was necessary within the process of completing tasks and leaders and other members elicited responses from all members, including those who were withdrawn. Opportunities within music therapy provided patients with nonverbal methods of expression, an outlet for tension, a break from social isolation, a method to combat low frustration tolerance, and an alternative method for having a good time.

Group music therapy program can be based on the Twelve-Steps of Alcoholic Anonymous. The music therapist programmed activities for members of the treatment group to provide a source of information, emotional support and skill development. Lyric analysis, vocal blues improvisation, guitar improvisation and songwriting were used to build relationships, encourage self-expression and creative thinking, improve communication and increase socialization and awareness; all of these areas were important components within the recovery process.


An expressive arts model within a substance abuse treatment setting. Clients with addictions often resisted treatment by engaging in defense mechanisms. The Expressive Arts Model provided a different method of dealing with resistance compared to traditional verbal group therapy settings. The authors believed that the creative experiences in the Expressive Arts Model were important for the clients, especially in engaging the clients in self-expression, which often occurs before self-awareness. Vocal improvisation and Orff improvisation were used within the group setting to increase self-expression and self-awareness, develop relationships with others, and reaffirm personal responsibility for life choices.

Clients with substance abuse addictions became involved in the sessions and shared their feelings more when art and music activities were used; clients also responded more and shared more comments when rhythm instruments were used. Clients exhibited a decrease in tension level when classical music was used and an increase in tension and greater reservation when participating in movement activities. Clients expressed more feelings when time for discussions was included throughout the session. The author emphasized the need for further research, as there was not a high inter-observer reliability throughout the study. Still, the use of vibrational and rhythmic energy in the form of music and art can help individuals move through the behavioral and emotional issues of an addiction faster and more reliably. These musical vibrations are the basis of metaphysical belief that we are all vibration and that vibration and energy can be changed.


Many believe that the currently discussed alternative approaches to alcohol dependence and abuse pale in comparison to more radical approaches such as genetic research, biological interventions and specific social programs such as drug courts which are going to be the mainstream approach in the future. (Harrison, & Scarpitti, 2002: Dick, & Foroud, 2002)


Therefore it is important to consider that today’s more radically viewed alternative approaches maybe tomorrow’s reality. Also when considering the use of an alternative therapy for alcohol dependence or abuse many factors must be considered. First and foremost would be the patient’s demographics. Gender, culture, age, duration all play key roles in deciding what types of alternative treatment or prevention measures a clinician would use.Moreover, it is important to consider if an alternative treatment is warranted or if it can simply be an augmentation to more traditional therapy. I do feel that motivational therapy, where after rapport is established, is a very effective means for a therapist to help their client make the best choice in what types of therapeutic approaches would work best. After all, alcohol abuse and dependency treatments all come down ultimately to the choice of the client to change. This choice happens in the present moment and with deliberate intent and faith. Why not offer the client the choice in how they go about making their own informed change with either one of the alternative or mainstream approaches?


The goal is to get the client to make choices to stop their addiction therefore a synergistic effect can be created when the client can see clear choices in determination of treatment options and the ability to choose to control an addiction.

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Dr. Lewis Jordan has over 20 years experience in psychotherapy, counseling, education and public speaking. Dr. Lewis Jordan’s Psychotherapy ServicesFlorida therapy offices for Therapy & Neurofeedback Services are located in various locations throughout South Florida as well as offices in New York City and South Carolina.  Please click here for Dr. Lewis Jordan’s current Educational Videos

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Blessings to you.

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