Music therapy

Studies have shown that music therapy can provide a number of physical and psychological benefits including reducing stress, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, depression and sleeplessness.

And now research says that music therapy — which involves engaging in musical activities with a certified professional — can provide significant pain relief to seriously ill patients.

The researchers say this is the first large study to examine and show the potential music therapy has for providing both physical and psychological comfort to patients dealing with advanced illness.

“We’ve known for a while that music therapy can be used for a wide variety of things in a medical setting,” said study co-author Lisa M. Gallagher, a music therapist with the Cleveland Music School Settlement and The Horvitz Center for Palliative Medicine at The Cleveland Clinic. “But this particular study clearly shows that it helps improve mood while decreasing pain, anxiety, depression and even shortness of breath among seriously ill patients.” (Source: Health Day News)

For the study, the researchers looked at 200 people battling serious illness, including cancer, pain disorders, sickle cell disease, aortic aneurysm and AIDS. For the therapy, a patient selected the style of music he or she wished to hear and then a musical therapist played appropriate selections on a keyboard for about 25 minutes.

Results indicated that in addition to significant benefits in pain, anxiety, mood and shortness of breath, more than 80 per cent of the patients said their mood had improved following music therapy. Movement, facial expression and verbal skills were also found to have significantly improved.

Having had a prior musical background seemed to play no role, and the results were, for the most part, equally beneficial for men and women.

So what is music therapy exactly?

According to the Canadian Association for Music Therapy, it is “the skillful use of music and musical elements by an accredited music therapist to promote, maintain and restore mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health.”

Music therapists generally design sessions based on a person’s needs and tastes. The therapy could involve simply listening to music or composing songs, playing an instrument or talking about lyrics. People do not need to be musically talented to reap the benefits.

The idea of music as a powerful source for healing is certainly not new. It goes back to the writings of Aristotle and Plato who believed that music could heal both the body and the soul.

Music therapy became a 20th century discipline in North America after World War I and World War II when community musicians visited Veterans hospitals to play for veterans suffering from physical and emotional trauma. Reportedly, health care workers noticed such a positive effect on the patients that they requested the musicians be hired by hospitals. The first music therapy degree program in the world was founded at Michigan State University in 1944. Degree programs in music therapy are also available in Canada and around the world.

To learn more about music therapy, visit:
Canadian Music Therapy Association
American Music Therapy Association

Sources: Canadian Music Therapy Association; American Music Therapy Association; Health Day News; American Cancer Association.