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Music Therapy: The Healing Powers Of Music

Last updated March 14, 2016

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Music therapy utilizes music and sound to build a strong relationship between patients and professionally trained therapists in the hope of providing relaxation and improvement of physical and emotional well-being to the former.


What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy utilizes music and sound to build a strong relationship between patients and professionally trained therapists in the hope of providing relaxation and improvement of physical and emotional well-being to the former. Trained music therapists engage individuals in either active or receptive music therapy. Active music therapy is when both patient and therapist create music together, while receptive music therapy is an individual listening to recorded or live music that the therapist deems suitable for his/her personal clinical needs. 

This therapy is not to be confused with music medicine, which is the passive listening to music in the absence of building a personal relationship with a therapist. Such a relationship can be crucial to the patient’s well-being, since this type of therapy focuses on a patient’s emotional needs. 

History of Music Therapy:

It is believed that the healing powers of music were observed as early as Aristotle’s and Plato’s time. Columbian Magazine in 1789 is the earliest known reference to music therapy, with the write-up titled, “Music Physically Considered.” Two medical dissertations in the early 1800s were written about the therapeutic value of music. Also around this time was the first recorded use of music therapy in an institution, with systematic experimental setting. 

After the world wars, there are reports of musicians visiting Veterans Hospitals and playing for those with both physical and emotional trauma. It was soon realized that these musicians lacked training, and therefore, a college curriculum was developed. Subsequently, much research has been conducted on the effects music therapies have on neurological diseases and palliative care, in addition to positive effects on other medical conditions. 

How does Music Therapy work?

Music is known to engage the emotion, motivation, cognition, and motor functions of the brain. Increased socialization, cognition, and motor function are considered potential by-products of musical intervention. The number of beats per minute, maximum volume level, duration, lyrics, the patient’s condition, and the patient’s musical preferences are some of the considerations the therapist takes into account when developing a personalized music therapy curriculum. An environment is created to provide relaxation and comfort for the patient. An integral part of this therapy is the building of a relationship between the therapist and the patient. Here are a few different methods of music experiences in music therapy:

  • Music listening  (live or recorded)
  • The therapist and/or patient perform/create live music
  • Improvisation; singing, playing, or writing
  • Playing composed music 

Scientific evidence:

Music therapy has been reported to be an effective method for improving mood, emotional well-being, and recovery for multiple conditions. This therapy is also reported to be an effective supplement to medical care in clinical settings, as evident from the following: 

  • Improved gait and movement in patients who have suffered a stroke or have Parkinson’s disease
  • Improved speaking ability in individuals with aphasia (inability to speak or understand speech)
  • Reduced depression, improved mood, and commitment to treatment plan for patients suffering from neurological diseases
  • Reduced anxiety and pain during medical and dental procedures in children
  • Reduced anxiety and sedation used on patients undergoing colonoscopies
  • Reduced anxiety and improved mood for women who undergo cervical screenings
  • Reduced pain reported by patients in palliative care, providing patients with an outlet to express strong emotions they are experiencing, and closure for families
  • Effect on dementia remains inconclusive. Although a short-term improvement of mood has been reported, long-term effects of music therapy are difficult to detect, given the nature of the disease. Perhaps as dementia worsens, the benefits of music therapy may not be sustained. Further research is needed in this field to arrive at a conclusion

The risks of Music Therapy:

Music therapy seems to be an effective means to improve quality of life and mood for patients suffering from conditions like Parkinson’s disease and aphasia. The use of this inexpensive, non-invasive therapy has so far not resulted in adverse side effects 

A word of caution:

More research needs to be conducted to investigate the effect of music therapy on different medical/clinical conditions.  Please consult with your healthcare provider before initiating alternative therapies. Tell your healthcare provider about any complementary and alternative practices you use. This will help your healthcare professional evaluate the condition of your health better and take appropriate clinical steps to assist you. Full disclosure to your healthcare provider will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

Written by Monique Richards

References:

Mcconnell, T., Scott, D., & Porter, S. (2016). Music therapy for end-of-life care: An updated systematic review. Palliative Medicine.

Gold, C., Solli, H. P., Krüger, V., & Lie, S. A. (2009). Dose–response relationship in music therapy for people with serious mental disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 29(3), 193-207.

American Music Therapy Association. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2016, from http://www.musictherapy.org/about/history/

Raglio, A., Attardo, L., Gontero, G., Rollino, S., Groppo, E. Graniere, E. (2015). Effects of music and music therapy on mood in neurological patients. World Journal of Psychiatry, 22;5(1), 68-78. 

Kamioka, H., Mutoh, Y., Tsutani, K., Yamada, M., Park, H., Okuizumi, H., . . . Oshio, T. (2014). Effectiveness of music therapy: A summary of systematic reviews based on randomized controlled trials of music interventions. Patient Preference and Adherence PPA, 727.

Mcconnell, T., Scott, D., & Porter, S. (2016). Music therapy for end-of-life care: An updated systematic review. Palliative Medicine.

Hilliard, R. E. (2005). Music Therapy in Hospice and Palliative Care: A Review of the Empirical Data. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2(2), 173-178.

Mcdermott, O., Crellin, N., Ridder, H. M., & Orrell, M. (2012). Music therapy in dementia: A narrative synthesis systematic review. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 28(8), 781-794.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 14, 2016
Last updated: March 14, 2016