It’s believed that music has been used since practically the beginning of time to help humans deal with difficult feelings and better connect to one another. Because of its strong and immediate influence over our emotions, coupled with its ability to naturally increase neurochemicals — including “feel good” endorphins — music is now being added to many rehabilitation programs across the world.
Music therapy (MT), also commonly referred to as active music therapy or passive music therapy in many studies, has shown promise for improving both motor control and emotional functions in patients with a wide range of diseases or disabilities. From cases of schizophrenia to Parkinson’s disease, musical interventions seem to help naturally decrease symptoms like anxiety or depression, help ignite creativity, improve communications between patients and their caregivers, and much more.
Experts in music therapy claim that sessions can help “achieve global improvement in personal well-being” without the reliance on mind-altering drugs. We can expect more research to keep emerging regarding the benefits of MT as it continues to be added to a variety of settings — including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, therapists offices, universities, special needs programs and hospices.
What Is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is based on the improvisation of music by a therapist and patient, sometimes done in a one-on-one setting but other times conducted in groups. There are two main branches of MT: active and passive. Active MT involves interaction between therapist and the patient much more than passive MT, in which the patient is usually as rest but listening to the therapist.
With passive therapy, the therapist plays calming music and invites the patient to visualize peaceful images and reflect on their inner dialogue, feelings and sensations. In most active music therapy sessions, the therapist and patients both work together using instruments as well as their voices and sometimes bodies (such as to dance or stretch).
The use of instruments in MT is structured to involve as many sensory organs as possible — incorporating touch, sight and sound. In both types of MT, rhythmic and melodic components of music are manipulated so that they work as stimuli to help uncover and work-through certain emotions, such as sadness, grief, frustration, loneliness, joy, gratitude, etc.
How Music Affects the Brain & Body:
How does music therapy work to relieve stress, lower depression and counteract other negative mind states exactly? Research suggests that some of the key ways that MT can help you feel better or even lower the need for use of prescription drugs, such as tranquilizing medications or hypnotics commonly prescribed for cognitive loss or anxiety, include increasing:
self-awareness and expression
stimulation of speech
a sense of belonging
and enhanced communication and relationships with others, both highly tied to happiness
According to an article published in Spirituality and Health, while music has been used for thousands of years due to its healing abilities, strong scientific support for using music as a professional healing therapy really took off in the early 2000s.
In 2004, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report based on 600 studies showing that use of manipulated sound and light can have a dramatic effect on how fast and how well patients recover. Since this time, more and more hospitals and other settings, such as the Good Samaritan Medical Center in Colorado, have been incorporating music as part of an effort to create new holistic healing environments, proving to be valuable into the treatment of trauma, common illnesses, boredom or restlessness among patients, burn-out or adrenal fatigue among caregivers and more.