Music Therapy – Improving Health

If listening to a classical concerto makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, music therapy may unlock the secrets to life’s many mysteries for you. Similarly, if hearing an Abba song or even a cheesy old Marie Osmond recording makes you swoon with joy and delight and can bring you out of a funk, then music therapy may be just what you need.

Music therapy is thought to originate in veterans’ hospitals, helping those who came back ravaged from the war acclimate better to the often traumatic injuries they suffered.

Actually, music therapy is not as daft as it may seem. The idea is that music is used as a therapeutic vehicle to achieve goals that are not really related to music at all. The parallels are obvious: speech and singing, walking and movement, rhythm and motor skills. As music has been scientifically proven to enhance mood as well, it’s thought that music therapy can optimize people’s abilities to interact and communicate on many, many levels.

People who can benefit from music therapy are manifold. They can be both adults and children, either those who suffer from certain disabilities, or those who have chronic health problems. Advocates of this type of therapy say it works in a variety of ways, and can improve not only an individual’s emotional well being, but also help them physically, cognitively, socially and even on an aesthetic level.

Some people find it hard to communicate for a variety of different and varied reasons that are either developmental, social and/or physical, and feel that communication through or with the use of music is the best way to open up. Music is used purely as a vehicle; it’s thought that the communication between the patient and the therapist is the most crucial aspect.

According to the American Music Therapy Association website, music therapy can:

* promote wellness

* manage stress

* alleviate pain

* express feelings

* enhance memory

* improve communication

* promote physical rehabilitation

History of Music Therapy

The use of music to make us feel happy has been around for time immemorial, while the therapeutic effects of music have been recorded more than 1,500 years ago. The idea of music as an established therapy, however, has only been around since World War II, at least in the United States.

Music therapy is thought to originate in veterans’ hospitals, helping those who came back ravaged from the war acclimate better to the often traumatic injuries they suffered. An undergraduate degree program in the discipline was founded at Michigan State University not long after, and the rest is history. Many universities now offer degree programs in music therapy, and it is not as uncommon as you might think.

In case it all looks a tiny bit airy-fairy, rest assured that contemporary music therapists must go through intense training before they become certified. This includes not only gaining counseling and health skills, but also reaching proficiency levels in guitar, voice, music theory, piano, improvisation, and music history and reading music, as well as other disciplines.

Music Therapy and Strokes

Music therapy to help people with strokes is seen as being especially important as music has been shown to have a strong impact on the brain, affecting particularly social interactions and emotions. The therapy has been proven to help people who have experienced strokes improve their speech and communication, cognition, mood, motivation, movement and muscle control.

This can be accomplished by a variety of exercises set out by a trained music therapist. They include rhyming, chanting and singing to exercise mouth muscles, playing on the drum to exercise arm muscles and control and creating songs to match the patient’s gait.

Particular emphasis is put on exercises that can increase mood and motivation, which in turn affect a lot of other activities. They include song-writing, lyric writing, performing, improvisation and more. “The emotional and aesthetic qualities of music are used to improve mood, to increase motivation, and to assist in pain management,” says the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function.

Music Therapy and Heart Disease

Music therapy can also help heart patients. An American Heart Association Scientific journal reported the results of an Italian study saying that music can “synchronize and influence” the cardiovascular system, and that crescendos increased the heart rate and lowered blood pressure.

Previous studies showed that music could be used as a therapeutic tool for people with neurological impairments. The studies showed that music improved athletic performance, enhanced motor skills and reduced stress overall for people with impaired brain function.

There is also evidence that music therapy can help limit nausea and vomiting experienced by cancer patients on a course of chemotherapy, and that it can help alleviate symptoms of depression and insomnia.

Music Thanatology for the Sick and Dying

Another aspect of music therapy that is less widely prescribed is known as music thanatology, dervied from the Greek term “thanatos”, which means death. It involves the use of music to help with the physical and spiritual care of people who are dying, and to help their loved ones deal with the grief when they eventually do pass away. Incorporating the use of music in palliative care programs is becoming more and more common, as people begin to understand the benefits it can bring.

Music thanatology can take many forms. Sometimes a trained musician will come to a dying person’s home and play harp music for them. Other times people will play a “music vigil” for the dying patient, easing their passing and providing support and comfort to their friends and relatives as well.

“The goal is to support the patient and family, not to seek applause. Some musicians avoid using words like ‘perform’ or ‘performance’ to describe what they do, because these words may put focus on the person creating the music rather than on the patient for whom the music is being played,” says growthhouse.org, whose motto is “Improving care for the dying”.

A music-based approach has been scientifically proven to help people in many aspects of their lives. Both children and adults can benefit from its application. Look for a music therapist near you if you think you or someone you know could benefit from this well established health care profession. And the next time you hear a rendition of Paper Roses, suppress the urge to run the other way and think how much it could do for you…

The information in the article is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care an appropriate health care provider.