Our friend Dr. James Hudziak at the University of Vermont College of Medicine takes a holistic view of childhood mental health. As ScienceDaily reports, his Vermont Family Based Approach holds that “the entirety of a young person’s environment—parents, teachers, friends, pets, extracurricular activities—contributes to his or her psychological health.” And that includes picking up an instrument.
“Music is a critical component in my model,” Hudziak says, and now he has brain imaging data to support it. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry suggests that playing music increases cortical thickness—associated with brain health—not only in motor areas, but also in areas associated with behavior regulation, executive function, and emotional control.
This is cutting-edge neuroscience that supports common sense: nurturing a child with engaging pursuits like music will likely have a constructive effect on development. But Hudziak is thinking bigger than a well-rounded childhood, or even prevention. “We treat things that result from negative things,” he says, “but we never try to use positive things as treatment.”
It’s obviously a tall order to get music into the lives of all the kids who struggle with emotional dysregulation, attention disorders, or anxiety, and the study authors recognize this. Furthermore, seriously impaired children often need more help than a music lesson, or even a weekly visit to the therapist. But we all know our mental health care system for young people is broken, and having another tool in the toolbox is music to our ears.