Putting on headphones to regulate emotions may not always be beneficial.
Listening to music is a form of emotional self-care that many of us turn to every day, without much conscious thought. The streaming service Spotify, well aware of this, offers a collection of “Mood” playlists, from “Anthems of Angst” to “Running Thru a Field of Smiles,” to my personal favorite, “The Happy Hipster.”
While music’s therapeutic qualities have long been known—Aristotle described music as a force to purify the emotions—music therapy as it exists today began in the early-mid 20th century, when musicians in the U.K. travelled to hospitals and played music for soldiers suffering emotional and physical trauma after World Wars I and II.
Music therapy is now a sanctioned form of health care with clinical, quantitative research to back it up. In some cases, it’s as effective as traditional forms of therapy, especially for adolescents with mood disorders or adults with depression. One tool music therapists use with patients—along with actively playing or composing music—is guiding patients through the music listening experience, helping them to process what they are thinking and feeling. What we do when we put on headphones is, in many ways, just a self-guided version of this process.