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Music Therapy In Ancient And Modern Medicine



Music Therapy is a professional health practice in which music and sound are used to improve the physical or mental health of a patient. Music is believed to treat ailments on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels simultaneously to have numerous medical benefits.  It has been found to relieve and treat the symptoms of drug and alcohol addiction, Dementia, Autism, depression, insomnia, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and many other conditions.  

The History of Music Therapy

For hundreds of years, music has been used to promote healing and relaxation in one form or another. Even ancient civilizations are said to know of the medical benefits of music, evident from the existence of healing instruments such as the bronze bells of Asia (shown in picture), dated to before 8th century BC or the Himalayan singing bowls that date back to 10th century AD. One of the earliest known practitioners of and sound therapy in a medical setting was the great Hippocrates, who is said to have played music to many of his psychiatric patients.

Much later on in the 13th century, hospitals of Arabia had music-rooms to aid in the treatment of patients. In America, Native American medicine men relied on dancing and musical chants as a part of their healing rituals. Religious groups and churches around the world inadvertently performed musical healing through their deeply spiritual hymns and uplifting songs of joy, which is still done.

The music therapy that is most similar to what is practiced today originated in the wake of World War II when traveling musicians and singing groups would visit hospitals to perform for wounded soldiers as a form of therapy for their emotional trauma.

Methods of Musical Healing

There are many techniques used in therapy, depending on the individual’s needs and the practitioner’s methods. While evaluating the correct method to use on a particular patient, a therapist will take into consideration factors like the problem being treated, family history, musical responses, and level of intelligence.

Though there are no exact specifications for the treatment of any certain ailment, there three theorized types of music therapy are typically employed; behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, and psychodynamic therapy. The techniques within these treatment types are classified as receptive verses active or improvisational verses structured. The activities conducted in a session vary from simply listening to music and sounds, to playing instruments, composing simple music, and having a discussion about music.

The types of music used will depend greatly on the patient’s musical tastes. Some music played may be very slow and rhythmic, and at other times very upbeat and energetic music will be used. Sessions may be conducted on a one-on-one basis or in a group setting, depending on the circumstances. While either type of therapy is valuable, group therapy can have additional benefits such as improved social-skills and higher self-esteem.