“I’m majoring in music therapy”, a choir peer enthusiastically said while putting her hand down after being asked what plans we had for college. Music therapist - a profession that many in choir had heard of, but had no idea of what it really was, nevertheless the significance and incredible impact it has on people. Music therapy is the astonishing idea and ability to heal people both physically and psychologically with the power of music. Music therapy is used just like any other type of therapy. For example, a psychologist uses talking as a tool of communication to make others feel better and to find a way to help them. Music therapy does the same, but instead of using conversation, music therapists use rhythms, melodies, dynamics, and more to help the wellbeing of a person.
Music therapy is a profession that has been around for more than sixty years, but its history and the impact of music in health and behavior trace back to the writings of Aristotle and Plato. This profession began after World War I and World War II when many Veterans were suffering from PTSD and had to remain in hospitals. Local musicians would come to cheer them up with music and as a way to thank them; this act of kindness turned into what today is music therapy. Local musicians began to notice how much improvement and positive responses, both emotionally and physically, the patients were having after being exposed to music. These musicians decided to gain more experience and study this topic and the effects of music in a deeper level. Hospitals demanded more musicians and soon music therapy college programs were created.
The question is: why is music therapy important and does it truly heal patients the same way as other therapeutic services? Music therapy isn’t simply to make one happier, or make one just feel better, it’s used to improve one’s self as a whole without the need of strong medication dosage. Recent researchers have found that medications are no longer the only way to improve a person’s health; they’re discovering each day that one’s emotions, the health of one’s soul, as well as the psychological well being, play a humongous part of one’s physical health. With this information and more, it’s safe to say that music has a tremendous impact on people’s emotions, and has the potential to improve their health. Music, for many, is something that is impossible to go without because through music one is able to change and even express themselves. When one feels down, music is there to either cheer up the mood or let out everything that causes pain or sadness. Music is there to motivate, dance and sing one’s heart out, but can also be there to cry nonstop after a minor or major inconvenience. Music touches deep down in the soul, the way no other thing on Earth does. Without music, many would feel unbelievably alone because music helps to cope and go through life. Its impact on humans is indescribably beautiful.
Music therapy in medicine is meaningful, but many in the field consider it unnecessary. However, it’s proven through research music therapy is essential to one’s health. The primary goals of music therapy are NEVER musical - they are just like other therapists, such as be able to walk, talk etc. Music is one of the few things in life that processes information in both parts of the brain at once, meaning that there isn’t just one active part of the brain. With this, music therapists are able to help patients that had a stroke, have autism, parkinson’s, and more. Stroke victims many times lose control of certain body parts after the stroke, but music changes the neural mechanism. With music and rhythms, many stroke victims are able to walk because this facilitates and sustains the mobility; music and rhythm are able to communicate with parts of the body that the brain wasn’t able to by itself. Additionally, music therapy is used to communicate with autistic patients. Autistic patients respond better to song cues than speech cues. There’s a structure in the brain called Arcuate fasciculus that is thicker in non-verbal young children with autism in the right hemisphere of the brain. The right hemisphere is predominant for processing melody and the left hemisphere is for speech. This means that this might be the entry point to their world - a way to pull them into this world and give them the ability to participate and jumpstart their speech and language development.
Music Therapy is also excellent for surgery because it helps stabilize the heartbeat of a stressed or nervous patient (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April, 2013). If a patient isn’t nervous, then a lot of anesthesia won’t be necessary and medication will not be needed. One recent study “found that music can help soothe pediatric emergency room patients” (JAMA Pediatrics). The trial was with forty-two children ages three to eleven, and the University of Alberta researchers found that “patients who listened to relaxing music while getting an IV inserted reported significantly less pain, and some demonstrated significantly less distress” compared with patients that didn’t. Furthermore, in the music-listening group, more than two-thirds of the health-care providers reported that the “IVs were very easy to administer”, compared with the other thirty-eight percent of providers treating the group that did not listen to music. Playing music for kids during painful medical procedures is a simple intervention that can make a big difference."
There are also more studies with even younger patients. The Beth Israel Medical Center's Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine conducted a study that included 272 premature babies thirty-two weeks gestation or older in eleven mid-Atlantic NICUs. They looked at the effects of music of three categories: “a lullaby selected and sung by the baby's parents; an "ocean disc," a round instrument, invented by the Remo drum company, that mimics the sounds of the womb; and a gato box, a drum-like instrument used to simulate two-tone heartbeat rhythms”. The instruments were played in person by music therapists that were certified and corresponded to each baby’s heart rhythm and breathing. They also found that with the gato box, the Remo ocean disc and singing all slowed a baby's heart rate, but singing was the most effective. It significantly increased the time that “babies stayed quietly alert”. Sucking behavior “improved most with the gato box”, while the ocean disc “enhanced sleep”.
Joanne Loewy, the study's lead author, director of the Armstrong center and co-editor of the journal Music and Medicine, reinforces that music therapy lowers and decreases the parents' stress as well. "There's just something about music — particularly live music — that excites and activates the body," Loewy mentions. Music therapy is also marvelous for woman preparing for birth and for cancer patients. Music is a medicine that is used to heal; It is non invasive, dear, and one uses it to find comfort, motivation and relaxation. Music therapy interventions “Promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance the memory, improve communication, and promote physical rehabilitation” (American Music Therapy Association).
Music therapy is used to connect and heal other people that are in pain, that are facing challenges, or and are disabled. It’s used just like any other therapy; one has to know the person that is being treated, their problems, and understand their qualifications. It’s not just simply playing music and hoping to get them to feel better. It’s analyzation and process to get them to truly heal. Music therapy has created an unbelievably positive effect on people and their healing process, and will continue to do so in the future if one spreads the knowledge and the benefits on everyone.
Clareth put together a playlist of her favorite songs to listen to when she's feeling down. You can listen to it here.