Music therapy may offer invaluable benefits to mental health: experts

Feb 11, 2020 | News

Andrew Ascenzo and Sarah Rose Black perform at a Toronto Public Library branch on Feb. 5. (Raisa Rahim)

Raisa Rahim

Sarah Rose Black and Andrew Ascenzo sing and play music to those suffering intense pain, or are on their death beds.

The pair, both psychotherapists, treat patients with music therapy and work diligently to raise awareness about the benefits of the treatment through various events and performances around the GTA.

“Our bodies have their own rhythm,” said Black, who plays piano and is also an accredited music therapist. “Vibrations and shared social experiences can create an environment that feels really connected.”

Music therapy, which involves using music to improve patients’ health, has been around for years.

It is now being practiced and preached widely.

Ascenzo, who plays the cello, said lyrics can be comforting in many social interactions.

“Music can convey messages of support and encouragement,” he said.

Cellist and psychotherapist Andrew Ascenzo performs at a Toronto Public Library branch to raise awareness about the benefits of music therapy. (Raisa Rahim)

Black and Ascenzo frequently play music for hospital patients, taking care to perform compositions that align with their clients’ moods and experiences.

Black said this is called mood shifting or mood matching, though the duo prioritizes playing songs in a patient’s preferred genre.

“If they [the patients] are feeling sad and they want to feel happy, we use a song to match that particular mood,” she said.

Black said there are three components to music therapy: the music; the goals of the therapy session, which range from anxiety or pain management to processing complication emotions; and the relationship between the patient and therapist.

She said having a therapist present gives patients the opportunity to have conversations that wouldn’t be possible with experiencing music through a streaming service.

“I encourage people to use those resources [like music-streaming services] but a playlist doesn’t react if you start to cry. A person can,” Black said.

Sarah Rose Black singing a song one of her cancer patients wrote about her family. (Raisa Rahim)

A significant portion of what Black and Ascenzo do is provide energy and muscle relaxation using different prompts with their words, they said.

“If I were to sit with someone and match the pace of their breathing exactly with my music,” Black said. “What happens is we synchronize subconsciously and their breathing will start to match what I do.

“If I slow down, their breathing slows down, so I’m actually tapping into their nervous system,” she said.

Ascenzo said said music is powerful and can make people feel many things.

“We are all musical beings. We begin, develop and end with music,” he said.