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The Benefits of Music Therapy

By Kim Robson:

When I was growing up, my family had one of those enormous hi-fi cabinets that anchored the entire living room. Large speakers defined the ends, while nestled inside were a record player, an AM/FM radio and an amplifier. Tucked below was enough space to store hundreds of LP records. Put to use frequently, the turntable always had several classical music records playing during our dinner hour. That exposure (along with some brilliant Bugs Bunny cartoons) developed in me — without my even realizing it — an early appreciation for classical music. There are certain pieces that to this day take me right back to the dinner table.

Here is a more recent example of the power of music: a friend of mine (a mother) remarked on Facebook not long ago, “I listened to ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ instead of my usual gangsta rap during high school drop off this morning. And let me tell you — the chaos, lack of signals, stopping dead in the travel lane to let your kid out and making every other kid late, etc., felt like an exquisite dance, gloriously syncopated with crescendos and staccatos, rather than a tense battle for parking turf.”

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

~ William Congreve

What Is Music Therapy?

The power of music is well documented in literature going as far back as the writings of Aristotle and Plato. It is backed also by hard science. Studiessupport its use and effectiveness in a range of applications, particularly in healthcare and educational settings. According to the American Music Therapy Association(AMTA), 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 program.” Goals can include the following:

  • Stress management
  • Pain management
  • Wellness promotion
  • Better memory
  • Better communication
  • Physical rehabilitation
  • Accessing suppressed feelings

Research has shown music therapy to be beneficial for anyone suffering from PTSD, autism, brain injuries, mental or surgical trauma, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and people in high-stress military or correctional settings, to name just a few.

Who Is Qualified to Practice Music Therapy?

“Music Therapist” is a bona-fide, established medical health profession. It requires 1,200 hours of clinical training and a working knowledge of medicine, psychology and music (including proficiency in one or more instruments). Practitioners must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from an approved college or university, and must also hold an MT-BC credential from the Certification Board for Music Therapists. The board ensures competent practice and oversees continuing education. In some states, licensure for board-certified music therapists may also be in place.

What Does a Session Look Like?

Therapy sessions are individualized to each patient, so there is no “typical” scenario. The genre of music played, instrument used, level of interaction with the patient, etc., can vary widely depending on the patient’s needs and the desired results. This video shows music therapist Oliver Jacobson at work in UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. He says, “Music therapy provides a creative way for kids to move through trauma, and to be a kid and a whole child, not just a diagnosis.” His bedside visits utilize music to ease a child’s anxieties and difficulties while being hospitalized:

Anyone Can “Practice” Music Therapy Informally

While not technically clinical, these examples of informal music therapy are definitely worth practicing:

  • Filling an iPod with an Alzheimer’s patient’s favorite music from the time of their youth and playing it for them on headphones
  • A piano player in the lobby of a hospital
  • A church choir singing in a children’s ward
  • A young person playing guitar in a nursing home
  • Playing inspiring or motivating “pump up” music before the big game or during your morning workout
  • Playing soothing background music in delivery rooms, school study halls, or psychiatric facilities
  • Organizing a drum circle for stress relief and community-building
  • Combining music with mental imagery, meditation, and/or deep breathing to induce relaxation or sleep for those with insomnia, anxiety, fear, pain, or muscle tension
  • Singing Christmas carols in a shopping mall or door-to-door
  • Attending a Native American powwow with traditional chants, drumming, and dancing

“Music is the quickening art.”

~ Kant

Check out this video showing the shocking transformation music therapy can achieve in dementia patients:

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Music Therapy for Kids

To come full circle, let’s return to music and kids. All kids are natural, instinctive musicians. Give them a pair of wooden spoons and watch them channel Keith Moon; or cue up “Frozen” for the hundredth time and watch them belt out “Let It Go”like Idina Menzel; or put on a Michael Jackson video and watch them pull dance moveslike, well, Michael Jackson.

Music is beneficial for kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and learning disabilities. It’s a useful tool for special learners who respond poorly to standardized testing and traditional school settings. But what’s also very important is music’s influence on everyday kids’ lives. Nursery rhymes, lullabies, singalongs, dancing and clapping (not to mention dinnertime classical) all build language and communication skills.

Music therapy works for persons of all ages. It can soothe and calm and invigorate all humans (even those who claim to be “not musical”), from infants to teens to adults to the elderly. Can’t quiet a baby with croup? Got an angry teen sulking about the house? Just had a fight with your spouse? Can’t penetrate the fog of dementia? Put on some classical piano or smooth jazz or Spanish guitar music and after a short while you can feel the tension just drain out of the room.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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