Music: Healing & Learning Through Experiences

In the nearly seven years I have worked with our students, I have have been so fortunate to bear witness to the growth and healing that happens in this place. When families visit our school, they leave with the feeling that there is no other place like it in the world. Why? It is hard to put a finger on, but we believe it’s because they have tasted the magic of the experience that is Chrysalis. It’s not just the beauty of Montana. It’s not just the genuine kindness of the people who work here. It’s not just the small classes with teachers who know and care deeply about each student. It’s not just the clinical savvy of our therapists. It’s not just the life-changing international trips or even the weekly adventure trips. It’s the whole of the experience. The Chrysalis experience.

Students typically spend a year to a year and a half with us. In that time, they live, eat and breathe all of the above. Their time here is a tiny speck on the timeline of their life, yet it feels like an eternity while they’re in the nitty gritty of their therapeutic work. It’s not easy, and can be messy at times. But it doesn’t always feel like work. That’s why the experiential piece is so vital to what we do. The therapy that happens in the office is essential and transformative, but so is the informal experiential “therapy” and learning that happens outside of the office with every staff, in every building on our campus, and in every beautiful and wild place that our students will set foot in.


I have the great joy of teaching music at Chrysalis. I’m continually in awe of our students’ ability to open themselves up to musical experiences while they are here. There is a lot of healing power contained in the expressive art of music, even without it being therapy in a more formal sense. I am not a therapist, nor do I claim to be. I simply teach music. However, I have seen time and time again that students find joy, confidence, and peace through learning to express themselves creatively through music. One girl who has been plagued by extreme social anxiety for most of her life found her peace while holding a guitar and singing in front of the entire student body into a microphone. A girl with trauma and pain so deep that she can’t even talk about it, learned she could spill her heart into a beautiful song and bring light to her darkness. A girl who has tried her whole life to be perfect took a risk on trying to learn an instrument, and grew to be more comfortable with her imperfect progress. These are just a few of the stories that have left me in awe of the power music can have.

In addition to the anecdotal evidence from my years working with our students, there is quite a bit of research showing us how music can help us heal, learn and grow. A study shows that music therapy, (which often involves guiding clients toward creative expression and active participation in music, as well as prescribed music listening for therapeutic purposes) can reduce depression and increase self-esteem in children and teens. Another study shows that singing with others can help reduce anxiety and depression while improving social connection. One study even shows how singing in a choir actually synchronizes heartbeats while reducing stress. There is also much research to show that learning to play an instrument can help students to do better in school by improving cognitive abilities and executive functioning.

I leave you with a quote from Plato. “I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.”


Bournemouth University “Music Therapy Can Reduce Depression in Children and Teens.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 5 November 2016.

Tom Shakespeare and Alice Whieldon. “Sing Your Heart Out: Community Singing as Part of Mental Health Recovery.” Medical Humanities (Published Online First: November 25, 2017) DOI: 10.1136/medhum-2017-011195

Viktor Müller and Ulman Lindenberger. “Cardiac and Respiratory Patterns Synchronize Between Persons During Choir Singing.” PloS One (2011) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024893

Zuk J, Benjamin C, Kenyon A, Gaab N (2014) Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Executive Functioning in Musicians and Non-Musicians. PLoS ONE 9(6): e99868.

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