Voicing Emotion & Music Therapy for a Healthier Mind and Body

Music therapy, and use of the voice in particular, can be an ideal outlet for emotions of all types. Voice can combine multiple modes of expression. When we verbalize our feelings and put them to words, our voice lets us speak up and communicate what we feel. Developing a confident and strong voice when we talk about our feelings helps us value our own emotional experiences and needs, and demands a similar respect from those we communicate with about our feelings. Musical expression can also utilize the voice in a manner that is less verbal and more emotive, helping us experience and express things that cannot be put in words. Prayer, mantras, and chants can be aspects of spiritual practices that let us process feelings in relation to something greater than ourselves. The voice is even a form of physical expression. Speaking and singing relies on the breath, which is a physical act produced by movement of the diaphragm and even the entire core of the body. Getting this physical process moving can loosen the grip of tension-producing emotions like anxiety, or unsettle emotions like sadness that create a weight in the belly.

It is likely that at some point in our lives most of us have, either consciously or unconsciously, suppressed an emotion instead of releasing or expressing it. Sometimes this means holding negative feelings inside ourselves, where we fixate and ruminate on them, causing them to grow and become even more painful and difficult to deal with. Other times, we try to deny or ignore a feeling, shoving it deeper inside ourselves where it ends up taking root more firmly. This type of emotional behaviour can be motivated by any number of things, including fear of conflict, failure to value our own subjective experiences, or even simply being too busy to process every emotion fully. While we may get away with suppressing the occasional petty irritation or unreasonable pang of jealousy, sooner or later suppressed feelings will return to haunt us in some way or another. Sometimes it is as straightforward as picking a fight with your partner over something minor because you’ve been suppressing a more significant fear or frustration about your relationship. Other times the suppressed emotion might mutate, such as when insecurity turns to jealousy, or hurt to anger, making it hard to locate the original cause. Suppressed emotions can even impact physical well-being in ways that range from general tension in the body, tooth grinding, and stomach aches to more severe, even debilitating, psychosomatic conditions. For many of us, this can even be our habitual approach to dealing with our emotions, and expressing and releasing feelings in a healthier manner is something that has to be consciously learned.

Expressing emotions does not have to mean “dealing” with them, as if every negative emotion is a problem that needs to be solved, fixed, and made to go away. Sometimes talking through the same emotion repeatedly, examining it from every angle, is just another way to hang on to it and nurture it as it grows larger and harder to manage. Healthy expression of emotion helps to release and let go of the negative feeling, whether piece by piece or all in one go. Sometimes this process will also lead to practical changes in your life and relationships, but the process of feeling and releasing negative emotion in a healthful way is beneficial in and of itself. This can look different for different people, for different emotions, and for different circumstances but it always involves recognizing and acknowledging the emotion, allowing yourself to feel it as a real, but transient experience, and letting it leave your body in some way. Emotion can be released from the body in any number of ways, such as through naming and verbalizing it by telling someone, through artistic expression such as writing or painting, or even through physical expression such as yoga or a workout.

Finding a variety of methods for processing and releasing emotions is important for holistic well-being. Your voice can be a powerful and versatile tool that facilitates numerous modes of expression and emotional release.

The Voice as a Means of Self-Expression

The connection between the voice and self-expression may seem self-explanatory – indeed, using the voice is a key aspect to any form of verbal communication. However, there is an important distinction between ordering a meal and exploring the voice as a means of empowerment, affirmation, and healing analogous to the difference between expressing hunger or telling someone the time versus expressing sorrow or telling someone your story. In music therapy, therefore, the voice is regarded as an important tool for self-expression not only for its connection to verbal communication but because of its ability to explore and convey inner anxieties, emotions, experiences, memories, and identity.

Self-expression is crucial. It is key to communicating how we feel, our thoughts, opinions, needs, and wants. It allows for the release of emotions. It highlights individuality while allowing us to share, bond, relate, and empathize with others. In music therapy, therapists combine the importance of self-expression with the power of music to further dig deep into the individual’s emotional, physical, and spiritual experiences. Music opens the door to important verbal discussions as well as, and this will be the main topic of discussion in this article, singing in order to effectively empower and heal individuals through the use of the voice.

Singing can be a powerful, whole-body, emotional experience, and through encouraging individuals to sing, music therapists hope to help people get in touch with and articulate their feelings through an experience that is both creative and often pleasurable. Though singing may make individuals feel nervous or vulnerable, as many have difficulty overcoming the fear of sounding bad or making mistakes, working through this anxiety can have positive effects in itself, as often parts of the self are projected onto the voice and treatment of the voice. The hopeful end result of this process is the use of the voice as a way of empowering a person’s expressive and self-reflective capacities while providing them with a coping mechanism which draws on the individual’s inner resources in order to work through trauma, stress, anxiety, identity crises and insecurity.

By combining singing with music, individuals have the opportunity to be verbally expressive while being supported by music and all of its positive effects. Cognitive science has demonstrated that music engages the body and brain in ways that little else can, lighting up emotional, physical, and linguistic centres. The music’s character, therefore, has the ability to evoke emotions and memories, which can provide individuals with the opportunity to explore different aspects of the themselves and their experiences. By engaging the creative self in the growth and healing process, singing gives individuals the opportunity for holistic empowerment through its ability to promote self-expression.