By Charles Hopkins
Published 09/20/2007 | Health
Music therapy uses music to promote positive changes in the well being
of an individual. These positive changes may be manifested in changes
in physical development, social and interpersonal development,
emotional or spiritual well being or cognitive abilities.
The therapeutic benefits of music have been known and harnessed
since ancient times. However, music therapy in modern times dates back
to the World Wars when music was used in hospitals in the
rehabilitation and recovery of soldiers who had suffered physical or
emotional trauma. The University of Kansas was the first University in
the United States to offer a degree program in music therapy in 1944.
Early exponents of music therapy in the 1950's to 1970's included the
French cellist Juliet Alvin and Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins. The
Nordoff-Robbins approach is still used in many countries around the
world including the USA, UK, Australia, Germany and South Africa.
So, how does music therapy work?
Music is universal and connects across language barriers. Most
people can respond to music in some way regardless of illness or
Music has an inherent ability to generate an emotional response in
the listener. It stimulates a relaxation response that can therefore
lead to physiological changes in the body. Music is known to reduce
stress thereby producing related benefits such as lower blood pressure,
improved respiration, reduced heart rate, better cardiac performance
and reduced tension in muscles.
Music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain and this
stimulation has been shown to help in development of language and
speech functions. It promotes socialization and development of
communication, self-expression and motor skills. Children and adults
with autism spectrum disorder have been found to respond very
positively to music and many of them display high levels of musical
skill. Music encourages verbal as well as non-verbal communication and
promotes social interaction and relatedness. It's a valuable outlet for
self-expression and creativity. It has also been successfully used in
pain management by providing a distraction from the painful stimulus as
well as a means of relaxation and stress alleviation.
Children with developmental and learning difficulties, children and
adults with autism spectrum disorder or special needs as well as the
elderly and dementia sufferers have all been shown to benefit from
music therapy. Although the benefits of music therapy have been
accepted intuitively and based on anecdotal evidence it wasn't till
recently that quantitative evidence of its efficacy started to emerge.
In a recent study conducted by the University of Miami School of
Medicine, blood samples of a group of male Alzheimer's patients who
were treated with music therapy were found to have significantly
elevated levels of melatonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine which are
chemicals which act on the brain to control mood, depression,
aggression and sleep. The benefits of the therapy were still evident
even six weeks after cessation of the therapy and in the case of
melatonin the effects persisted even longer.
Music therapy is gaining wider acceptance in the general medical
community and has certainly stood the test of time. Music therapists
can now be found practicing in a variety of institutions dealing with
mental health, developmental and early intervention programs,
correctional institutions and special education programs to name but a
few. Many are having success where traditional treatment methods have