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Christian Music as Therapy, A Genre Perspective

Posted by on Aug 8, 2012 in Soul Health and Wellness |

Christian Music as Therapy, A Genre Perspective

“Speak out to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, offering praise with voices [and instruments] and making melody with all your heart to the Lord . . . (Ephesians 5:19-20 AMP)”

Psalms. Hymns. Spiritual Songs.  These music forms are the cornerstone of what we identify as the Christian music genre.  Today the Christian music genre is quite expansive and is mostly identified by lyrical content rather than musical style.  As such, various sub-genres of music could be incorporated in Christian Music Therapy whether on a professional or self-help basis.  The many sub-genres within Christian music include Gospel, Contemporary Christian, Jazz, Hip Hop, Rock and Reggae.  As such, the selection of the appropriate genre of Christian music becomes an important consideration in Christian Music Therapy.

Ephesians 5:19 and Philippians 4:8 provides wise counsel for selection of the music that would benefit Christians in a therapeutic setting.  The Contemporary English Version (CEV) of Ephesians 5:19 puts it this way: “When you meet together, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as you praise the Lord with all your heart”.   Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Since those are the things God would have us to think about, then certainly it is those things that we should invite into our hearts, minds and through music and lyrics.  The Scriptures present music as a means for praise (cf. Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9), expressing joy (cf. James 5:13), thanksgiving (Psalms 92:1-3), sorrow for sin (cf. Isaiah 16:10), prayer (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:15; Psalm 72:20), and a means of teaching and spiritual communication (cf. Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19).

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul instructs Christians to encourage one another with music (cf. Ephesians 5:19). While the primary purpose of music is for worship, the Bible clearly teaches us the therapeutic benefit of musical interventions.

King David, the writer of the Old Testament Book of Psalms and the most famous musician in the Bible, primarily used music for the purpose of worshipping God (cf. Psalm 4:1; 6:1, 54, 55; 61:1; 67:1; 76:1). However, when King Saul was tormented by evil spirits, he called on David to play the harp in order to feel some relief (1 Samuel 16:14-23). The Israelites used musical instruments to warn of danger (cf. Nehemiah 4:20) as well as to surprise their enemies (cf. Judges 7:16-22).  Through music, singing and dancing, David conquered his fear and hesitation in bringing ark home to the City of Zion (cf. 1 Chronicles 15). Paul and Silas sang to relieve the tension, pain and mental anguish when they were imprisoned.  Jephtah’s daughter’s requested a two month retreat, and went to the mountains and lamented, in preparation for sacrifice (cf. (Judges 11:34).

The word psalm is derived from the Greek word Psalmoi which was originally translated as “music of the lyre” or “songs sung to a harp”.  Later the word was translated to mean any piece of music.  In the Old Testament Book of Psalms we find that the Psalmist even used different genres and forms.  While theologians have categorized the Psalms in different ways, here are some examples of the genres and types that are included:  hymns ( songs of praise and adoration), laments (songs of sorrow, grief and morning), songs of praise (worship in times of joy), songs of thanksgiving, wisdom psalms (designed for teaching), royal psalms (written for the king), confessions of trust (used when facing a specific trial), liturgies (used in worship services or public ceremonies), litanies (liturgical prayer songs), and pilgrim songs (sung together on a pilgrimage) and mixed type of songs.

Just as the choice of the genre within Christian music is important to Music Therapy, so is the choice of musical instruments.  Both have an impact on realizing the most beneficial results from the therapeutic healing process.  The Department of Music at Delta State University, in Abraka, Nigeria, identified Biblical support of the following types of instruments in a 2009 article entitled “Healing Through Music and Dance in the Bible: Its Scope, Competence and Implications for the Nigerian Music Healers”:

  • Melodic/Harmonic Instruments (Harp/Lyre) used in the treatment of psychosomatic cases (disorders having physical symptoms but originating from mental or emotional causes). 
  • Trumpets/Percussion Instruments used to fight fears and anxiety.
  • Vocal Music used, whether melodically or in harmony, to ease tension, emotional distress or physical pain.

All sub-genres or styles of Christian music can be useful in effecting change in an individual’s, client’s, counselee’s or patient’s life. The individual’s music preferences, circumstances, need for treatment and goals help to determine the types of music a music therapist may choose to use.

*The scriptures noted in this post are from the New King James Version (NKJV) unless otherwise noted. You are welcome to share your comments and testimonies about how Christian music has been a blessed and therapeutic intervention in your life. You may also be interested in the following articles by Dr. Linda:

Music As Therapy, A Biblical PerspectiveMusic As Therapy, A Counselor’s Perspective andMusic As Therapy, A Clinical Perspective.


Dr. Linda H. King is the Founder, President & Chief Ministry Officer of Soul Care Ministries International, Inc. and The Soul Care Institute™, an N.C.C.A. Certified Academic Institution; an Ordained Minister of the Gospel and N.C.C.A. Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor – Board Certified; Christian Coach, Mentor, Speaker and Blogger. Dr. King can be reached 1 (888) 761-5777, Ext 1 or www.soulcareministries.org/contact.

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