“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” ~ Plato
There is nothing new about the use of music in healing. Throughout the ages man has incorporated music into his most important healing rituals. Cultures from around the globe are steeped in musical traditions. What our ancient forefathers knew, that we are only now rediscovering is that music has a profound effect on us physically, emotionally and spiritually, a response that now can be mapped on brain scans. There is evidence that music therapy can reduce high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, depression, sleeplessness and so much more. There are no claims music therapy can cure cancer or other diseases, but medical experts do believe it can reduce some symptoms, aid healing, improve physical movement, and enrich a patient’s quality of life.
A formal approach to the use of music in healing is believed to have first been taken during World War II, when Veterans Administration hospitals began using music to help treat soldiers suffering from shell shock. Degrees in music therapy became available in the late 1940s, and in 1950 the first professional association of music therapists was formed in the United States. Today music therapy is used in many settings, including schools, preschools, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and community centers.
What is music therapy?
Music therapy is an established healthcare profession that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and sometimes spiritual needs of individuals of all ages. Music therapy can improve quality of life and often can meet the needs of children and adults with disabilities or illnesses. Music therapy interventions can be designed to:
• Promote wellbeing
• Manage stress
• Alleviate pain
• Express feelings
• Enhance memory
• Improve communication
• Promote physical rehabilitation.
Music Therapy is an interpersonal process in which the therapist uses music to reach patients, who often have not responded to more traditional medical treatments, on a physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual level. Music therapy is used with individuals of all ages and with a variety of conditions, including: psychiatric disorders, medical problems, physical handicaps, sensory impairments, developmental disabilities, substance abuse, communication disorders, interpersonal problems, and aging.
A few ways music therapy is used
In the neonatal nurseries and intensive care units, soft music played for premature infants can increase the oxygen uptake and slow infants’ heartbeats. It also may lead to speedier neurological development and may help premature babies leave the hospital days earlier than babies who don’t receive music therapy.
With Alzheimers and patients with related dementias, music therapy often reaches a part of the patient’s brain that no longer responds to speech. It can spark compelling outcomes even in the very late stages of the disease, by shifting mood, helping manage agitation, improving interaction with others and helping to improve motor skills and cognitive function.
In patients recovering from stroke, music therapy has been shown to be an excellent way to help individuals regain movement and communication skills, while lifting their mood at the same time. It has been particularly successful in helping patients with aphasia regain their ability to speak after speech therapy alone has failed.
In the treatment of autism, by engaging the child in dancing and singing, music therapy may improve communication and develop social skills. Autistic children respond to music by singing in the same note, and some of them may even start communicating through singing.
In people with traumatic brain injuries, such as soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan or Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who suffered brain injury when she was shot, music therapy stimulates the brain to find new pathways around damaged areas to help them relearn the ability to speak, through singing.
For cancer patients, music can create a positive emotional reaction for a greater sense of wellbeing, as well as help trigger important physical responses, such as the alleviation of pain. When pain is felt less intensely, patients may experience a decreased dependence on pain medications.
For patients with depression and other mental illnesses, a new Finnish study finds that combining music therapy with medication, plus psychotherapy and counseling – improves patient outcomes. Researchers believe the addition of music therapy allows people to better express their emotions and reflect on their inner feelings.
The Impact of Music
Many of us could not imagine a life without music. It entertains us, it calms us, it inspires creativity, and even helps to define important moments of our lives. While we don’t know how the first music emerged or how early man came to understand its value, we do know that music is so much more than accompaniment around a campfire or a soothing background sound in an elevator. Today music therapy has taken its place as an accepted and respected clinical avenue to the treatment of a wide variety of conditions. We are only just beginning to understand its power.
More about Music Therapy
For more information about music therapy, or to find a credentialed professional music therapist who has completed an approved music therapy program, visit www.musictherapy.org.