To provide a thorough and comprehensive music therapy and sound healing definition, let us first discuss its ancient origins. Many ancient cultures believed that music was an earthly manifestation of spiritual or Primal Vibration, also known as Cosmic Vibration, music of the spheres, universal mind, the Word, Om, etc., all variations of the same basic premise. Primal Vibration purports that there is an energy source, presumably of a spiritual nature, that emanates from the cosmos and impacts all matter on earth. Music is believed to be an earthly manifestation of this energy.
In many cultural belief systems, this imbues music and sound with the ability to heal by drawing energy from the cosmic Source through the earthly vibrations synthesized via musical instrument or voice. This belief contributes to the applied use of music and sound in many of the world healing traditions as the vibrational quality and harmonic ratios were thought to be both healing and therapeutic to the psyche.
When delving deeper into the question: “What is music therapy and sound healing?” it should be noted that, along with the belief in vibrations, ancient cultures also believed that how music and sound was used in society had an impact on the individual. This concept was captured in the axiom “as in music, so in life” which infers that the vibrational content in one’s music reflects what is in a person’s psyche. This idea dominated human history until the Age of Reason, approximately 100 years ago. As new technology advanced, natural ways were considered primitive, thus upsetting the natural laws of the human race and as a result people began to lose their spiritual connection with the cosmos.
As society has moved away from this purposeful attunement with the cosmos one finds social environments becoming fragmented which poses many challenges for individuals to find their way back to one’s true path. Though the cosmic connection has been lost there are ways to find one’s way back to one’s Self through community. An example of this can be seen in how music is used in Africa to connect a person with one’s birthright. It has been recounted that:
When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child. They recognize that every soul has its own song, a vibration that expresses its unique flavor and purpose. As the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else. When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and sings the child’s song. When the child passes through their initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song. Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth, and they sing the person to the next life.
Music, as demonstrated by this tribe, becomes the source for connecting with one’s true Self in life. Occasionally, one may fall out of tune with the cosmic vibration and will lose one’s way. If this should occur during the person’s life [and] he or she commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around the person. Then they sing the person’s song to them. This tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of who we truly are. When we remember who we are and recognize our own song, we would have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.
This demonstrates that a person’s early introduction to music therapy starts from birth. Furthermore, music continues to play a huge part throughout the milestones of the individual’s life, up until death.
The spiritual essence of being reminded of one’s uniqueness, of one’s authentic Self is paramount to what happens in the therapeutic process. When one takes off the mask of the persona, one’s shadow nature is revealed. Uncovering dissonant layers, removes barriers and restores one’s vibrational purity. In this capacity music serves as a mediator for connecting with the spiritual self.
Though recognized for its healing properties for many centuries, music therapy has only existed as a profession since 1950. The education of a music therapist consists of completing an approved music therapy program from one of 70 undergraduate or graduate colleges and universities. The minimum degree requirement is a bachelor’s degree. After completion of a closely supervised internship the music therapist is eligible to take a board certification exam to become a Board-Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC).
MUSIC THERAPY DEFINITION
Music therapists work in a variety of settings including halfway houses, hospice programs, medical hospitals, nursing homes, private practice, psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitative facilities, schools, wellness programs, etc. An introduction to music therapy can systematically address addictive/dependency disorders, brain injury, emotional intimacy, music assisted childbirth, neurological impairments, pain management, physical limitations, reality orientation, self awareness, self expression, speech and hearing impairments, stress reduction, etc. Music therapists use music to assess cognitive skills, communication abilities, emotional well-being, motor skills, physical health, social development, and spiritual enhancement through musical responses. Interventions may include active music making, music improvisation, drumming, receptive music listening, song writing, lyric discussion, music and imagery, music performance, and learning through music. Music is processed by the emotions, through mental imagery, intuitively, analytically, and physically. Music is immediate, always changing and moving, encouraging the listener to be present and mindful of what is taking place. By listening and responding to these energy patterns a person gains insight into one’s own energy patterns. The main priority in music therapy is to address the individual’s needs and problems through music, not to promote or perpetuate music as an art form for its own sake. Within music therapy, the behaviors of primary interest are those that have a significant effect on the person’s adaptation, education, or development. Music in this context is used to increase, decrease, modify, or reinforce carefully defined target behaviors.
Music therapists assess for quantitative and qualitative information relevant to the client’s needs; develop music therapy strategies to address short and long-term goals and objectives; provide evidence-based music therapy strategies and interventions to address identified goals and objectives; collect, compile, and document data relevant to client responses and progress, utilizing the findings to make decisions about music therapy services.
As no two humans are alike, no two psyches will respond to music in the same way. This creates the need for multiple musical genres and interventions to address the psyche’s varied needs. The ability to make music is innate, meaning that all people are musical, rhythmic beings as evidenced by the basic life affirming rhythms of one’s heartbeat, speech, and gait. Playing one’s heartbeat on a drum, for example, enlivens the person’s sense of Self, creating an outward expression of what is within as well as grounding the individual to the moment and providing an opportunity for self expression. Music therapy is non-invasive and has no side effects. Services range from working with new born babies to end of life care.
HISTORY OF MUSIC THERAPY
Music Therapy is a relatively young profession. The use of music in hospitals was first documented after the Second World War and in the 1950’s various professionals formed a specialist interest organisation: the Society for Music Therapy and Remedial Music. This became the British Society for Music Therapy in 1967 and led to the first training course – directed by Juliette Alvin – being established at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1968.
Around this time Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins published ‘Music for Handicapped Children and Music Therapy in Special Education’ and also initiated their training course in London. Where Alvin’s method was considered to draw more on psychoanalytic theories in addition to music, Nordoff & Robbins pioneered a more music centred approach.
In 1976 the Association of Professional Music Therapists (APMT) (now British Association of Music Therapists, BAMT) was formed. It supports the development of the profession as well as acting as a central point of contact for music therapists providing information regarding music therapy, practice, training and events. It was not until 1982 however that music therapy was recognised by the NHS as an effective form of treatment and in 1996 state registration of music therapy was formally ratified by Parliament. All qualified music therapists are now required to be registered with the Health Professionals Council.
WHAT DOES MUSIC THERAPY INVOLVE?
A music therapy session may incorporate a number of different elements, such as making music, writing songs, or passively listening to music.
While music therapists often aim to foster the patient’s emotional expression, there can be many other different goals in a music therapy session. These goals include relief of stress or anxiety, improvement of mood, and enhancement of quality of life for people dealing with illness.
Research shows that patients do not need to have any musical ability to benefit from music therapy.
BENEFITS OF MUSIC THERAPY
Here’s a look at some key study findings on the health effects of music therapy:
Music therapy may help some patients fight depression, according to a review published in 2008. Researchers sized up data from five previously published studies, four of which found that participants receiving music therapy were more likely to see a decrease in depression symptoms (compared to those who did not receive music therapy). According to the review’s authors, patients appeared to experience the greatest benefits when therapists used theory-based therapeutic techniques, such as painting to music and improvised singing.
Music therapy may help ease stress in pregnancy, according to a 2008 study of 236 healthy pregnant women. Compared to a control group, the 116 study members who received music therapy showed significantly greater reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression. The music therapy involved listening to a half-hour of soothing music twice daily for two weeks.
In a research review published in 2009, investigators found that listening to music may also benefit patients who experience severe stress and anxiety associated with having coronary heart disease. The review included two studies on patients treated by trained music therapists. Results showed that music listening had a beneficial effect on blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and pain in people with coronary heart disease.
Music therapy may help improve communication skills in children with autistic spectrum disorder, according to a review published in 2006. However, the review’s authors note that the included studies were of “limited applicability to clinical practice” and that “more research is needed to examine whether the effects of music therapy are enduring.”
Research suggests that music therapy may offer a number of benefits for people coping with cancer. For instance, music therapy has been shown to reduce anxiety in patients receiving radiation therapy, as well as ease nausea and vomiting resulting from high-dose chemotherapy.
GENERAL EFFECTS OF MUSIC THERAPY
Music has been used throughout human history to express and affect human emotion. The health benefits of music to patients in Veterans Administration hospitals following World War II became apparent, leading to its use as a complementary healing practice. Musicians were hired to work in hospitals. Degrees in music therapy became available in the late 1940s, and in 1950, the first professional association of music therapists was formed in the United States. The National Association of Music Therapy merged with the American Association of Music Therapy in 1998 to become the American Music Therapy Association.
Music can be beneficial for anyone. Although it can be used therapeutically for people who have physical, emotional, social, or cognitive deficits, even those who are healthy can use music to relax, reduce stress, improve mood, or to accompany exercise. There are no potentially harmful or toxic effects. Music therapists help their patients achieve a number of goals through music, including improvement of communication, academic strengths, attention span, and motor skills. They may also assist with behavioral therapy and pain management.
Depending on the type and style of sound, music can either sharpen mental acuity or assist in relaxation. Memory and learning can be enhanced, and this used with good results in children with learning disabilities. This effect may also be partially due to increased concentration that many people have while listening to music. Better productivity is another outcome of an improved ability to concentrate. The term “Mozart effect” was coined after a study showed that college students performed better on math problems when listening to classical music.
HOW MUSIC THERAPY IS USED
Music is used to form a relationship with the patient. The music therapist sets goals on an individual basis, depending on the reasons for treatment, and selects specific activities and exercises to help the patient progress. Objectives may include development of communication, cognitive, motor, emotional, and social skills. Some of the techniques used to achieve this are singing, listening, instrumental music, composition, creative movement, guided imagery, and other methods as appropriate. Other disciplines may be integrated as well, such as dance, art, and psychology. Patients may develop musical abilities as a result of therapy, but this is not a major concern. The primary aim is to improve the patient’s ability to function.
Learning to play an instrument is an excellent musical activity to develop motor skills in individuals with developmental delays, brain injuries, or other motor impairment. It is also an exercise in impulse control and group cooperation. Creative movement is another activity that can help to improve coordination, as well as strength, balance, and gait. Improvisation facilitates the nonverbal expression of emotion. It encourages socialization and communication about feelings as well. Singing develops articulation, rhythm, and breath control. Remembering lyrics and melody is an exercise in sequencing for stroke victims and others who may be intellectually impaired. Composition of words and music is one avenue available to assist the patient in working through fears and negative feelings. Listening is an excellent way to practice attending and remembering. It may also make the patient aware of memories and emotions that need to be acknowledged and perhaps talked about. Singing and discussion is a similar method, which is used with some patient populations to encourage dialogue. Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) is a very popular technique developed by music therapist Helen Bonny. Listening to music is used as a path to invoke emotions, pictures, and symbols from the patient. This is a bridge to the exploration and expression of feelings.
Music therapy is particularly effective with children. The sensory stimulation and playful nature of music can help to develop a child’s ability to express emotion, communicate, and develop rhythmic movement. There is also some evidence to show that speech and language skills can be improved through the stimulation of both hemispheres of the brain. Just as with adults, appropriately selected music can decrease stress, anxiety, and pain. Music therapy in a hospital environment with those who are sick, preparing for surgery, or recovering postoperatively is appropriate and beneficial. Children can also experience improved self-esteem through musical activities that allow them to succeed.
The geriatric population can be particularly prone to anxiety and depression, particularly in nursing home residents. Chronic diseases causing pain are also not uncommon in this setting. Music is an excellent outlet to provide enjoyment, relaxation, relief from pain, and an opportunity to socialize and reminisce about music that has had special importance to the individual. It can have a striking effect on patients with Alzheimer’s disease, even sometimes allowing them to focus and become responsive for a time. Music has also been observed to decrease the agitation that is so common with this disease. One study shows that elderly people who play a musical instrument are more physically and emotionally fit as they age than their nonmusical peers.
Music can be an effective tool for the mentally or emotionally ill. Autism is one disorder that has been particularly researched. Music therapy has enabled some autistic children to relate to others and have improved learning skills. Substance abuse, schizophrenia, paranoia, and disorders of personality, anxiety, and affect are all conditions that may be benefited by music therapy. In these groups, participation and social interaction are promoted through music. Reality orientation is improved. Patients are helped to develop coping skills, reduce stress, and express their feelings.
Pain, anxiety, and depression are major concerns with patients who are terminally ill. Music can provide some relief from pain, through release of endorphins and promotion of relaxation. It can also provide an opportunity for the patient to reminisce and talk about the fears that are associated with death and dying. Music may help regulate the rapid breathing of a patient who is anxious, and soothe the mind. The Chalice of Repose project, headquartered at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana, is one organization that attends and nurtures dying patients through the use of music , in a practice they called music-thanatology by developer Therese Schroeder-Sheker. Practitioners in this program work to relieve suffering through music prescribed for the individual patient.