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What is Music Therapy?



Music therapy has its roots in the healing properties of music; from the biblical times of David when he played for King Saul to ease the king’s malady to the Greek times of Hippocrates when the father of medicine played music to heal or alleviate the suffering of his patients. Many cultures the world over have recognized the healing powers of music and have used it to heal physical, mental, and psychological ailments in their patients. In modern times, music therapy has been adopted by mainstream medical practitioners and is recognized as a scientific means of healing as well as an art.

Music therapy has been used to help patients with debilitating diseases and conditions and help those with trauma-related injuries and complexes such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while assisting war veterans to integrate back into society smoothly after experiencing the horrors of war. But what is it about music that makes it such an apt tool for healers across the ages and across almost every culture?

The secret lies in the artistic and scientific effect of music on the whole person. Scientifically, music has been shown to regularize brain wave patterns and create a sense of rhythm and coherence, something that is important when treating conditions such as dementia where the patient lacks self-awareness and coherence. In addition, the rhythmic beat of the music at various tempos has also been known to regularize the breathing patterns of patients, which then helps stabilize other body functions such as the heartbeat. In addition to the rhythmic aspects of music, there are still other aspects that make music a significant tool in the hands of healers.

Music as an art is seen by many as something that inspires self-awareness, self-identity, and an exploration of one’s creativity.  These three aspects are especially important when dealing with mental and psychological health issues that attack the very core of the patient’s existence, individuality, and personal awareness.

Through active music therapy, where the patient actively participates in writing music, playing music and discussing music; and receptive music therapy, where the patient listens to music and immerses themselves in the musical experience, it has been shown that many patients are able to reconnect with themselves and begin to see meaning and purpose in their lives again.

This aspect of music therapy goes beyond just beats but begins to leverage lyrics and tempos and other emotional aspects of music that can create an image or perception of transcendental realities.

The final aspect of music that has been known to help in the healing process is dance. Most people view music and dance as inextricably related and this has helped patients with physical injuries recuperate.

Dance is viewed as a form of physiotherapy but with a more powerful result because it engages multiple senses of the patient as well as their emotions and world view. Through music and dance, physical therapy patients can slowly recuperate without the heavy burden of constantly willing themselves to move forward. Here the music is seen as a formidable facility that encourages and enables physiotherapy to proceed at a bearable and even enjoyable pace.

This brief overview states what perhaps each of us knows about music, that it can dramatically change one’s mood or even their perception of things. People have found inspiration, encouragement, motivation, and even courage through music. Consider each country has a national anthem and not a national quote.

There are nevertheless multiple other aspects to music therapy not mentioned here but this is to give you an appreciation of the scientific and artistic importance of music to the wellbeing of the whole person.