You’ve heard of physical therapy and occupational therapy, but have you heard of music therapy? While not as well known among therapy types, music therapy can have drastic effects on the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of an individual.
What is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is an established health profession in which music is used to create a therapeutic relationship. It is defined as “the controlled use of music and its influence on the human being to aid in the physiological, psychological, and emotional integration of the individual during treatment of illness or disability1.The genre and type of instrument played or listened to is tailored to the needs of each individual and to the goals set between the music therapist and the individual.
In practice, music therapy is the “clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program1.”There are currently around 5,000 board-certified music therapists in the United States.
Music therapy is used to improve, maintain, remediate, or prevent clinical issues in patient care. Examples of the outcomes of music therapy include1:
- reduced postoperative pain
- improved pain management
- decreased depression in elders
- reduced anxiety in adults
- reduced anxiety in ventilated patients
- decreased nausea in patients with cancer
- decreased post-traumatic stress in adults
- decreased agitation in patients with dementia
- improved sleep and relaxation
Psychological and Physiological Reaction
Music therapists can take cues from the individual when choosing what music to play, which may include a vigorous drum beat fading into a slow calm classic to help relax an individual who is too hyper. The rhythm of the music can guide the individual’s body into breathing slower and deeper. This helps to calm the individual. Heart rate and blood pressure are also responsive to the rhythm of the music. Psychologically, music stimulates the unconscious automatic response at the lower brain. Physiologically, music stimulates the autonomic nervous system that controls heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and endocrine functions1.
Think about your favorite song or a few of your favorite songs. Is it slow or fast? Is it loud or soft? Now think of how you feel when listening to the songs. Each genre of music likely makes you feel different. This is because music can influence human emotion, including how calm or tense the individual is, how excited the individual is, and how romantic the individual feels.
Music therapy is not just listening to certain types of music, it can also include creating, singing, and dancing to the music.
While expression of emotions is difficult for some individuals, the creation of music can be used to express emotion non-verbally. The same way that listening to music can influence human emotion, creating music can help others to understand the emotions an individual is feeling. Singing and dancing can also help individuals to express their emotions in a healthy way.
While there are many benefits to the individual during music therapy sessions, there is also a continued benefit. Physical, emotional, cognitive, and social abilities are strengthened throughout the session and this transfers to other areas of the individual’s life.
The accomplishment of individualized goals is made possible with clinical and evidence-based music therapy. Music can help individuals with their development of language skills and the identification and expression of emotions. Music has also been shown to be an effective tool of positive reinforcement, which encourages appropriate behaviors and reduces negative ones.
Because language skills, expression of emotions, and recognizing appropriate behaviors are some of the many troubles those with Autism face, music therapy can be a great fit for these individuals.
Those who suffer from memory and thinking impairment may benefit from songs of their youth, which they may still recognize and emotionally respond to. Music can also be used to calm or stimulate those individuals receiving care for Alzheimer’s or another memory disorder.
Palliative care aims to support patients with incurable illness. The use of music therapy in this field helps to maintain or improve quality of life. Studies have shown that music therapy improves relaxation and well-being in terminally ill individuals receiving palliative care, along with reducing the fatigue felt by patients2.
Others who Benefit
Music therapy can benefit children and adults with mental health needs, developmental and learning disabilities, aging related conditions, substance abuse problems, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and acute and chronic pain.
Music therapy can be beneficial to a wide range of individuals in a variety of ways.
1Murrock, & C., Bekhet, A. (2016). Concept analysis: Music therapy. Research and Theory for Nursing Practice, 30(1), 44-59.
2Warth, M., Kessler, J., Hillecke, T. & Bardenheuer, H. (2015). Music therapy in palliative care. Deutsches Arzteblatt International, 112(46), 788-794.