by Andrew Pacholyk MS L.Ac ~
Music is a magical medium and a very powerful tool. Music can delight all the senses and inspire every fiber of our being. Music has the power to soothe and relax, bring us comfort and embracing joy! Music subtly bypasses the intellectual stimulus in the brain and moves directly to our subconscious. There is music for every mood and for every occasion. Music Therapy is incorporated in a number of areas of medicine. Some of these include labor and delivery, oncology, pain management, physical rehabilitation, and pediatrics. Music Therapy has been shown to have influences on the immune system, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates, and pain perception.
Many cultures recognize the importance of music and sound as a healing power. In the ancient civilizations of India, the Orient, Africa, Europe and among the Aboriginal and American Indians, the practice of using sound to heal and achieve balance from within has existed for many years. The Tibetans still use bells, chimes, bowls, and chanting as the foundation of their spiritual practice. In Bali, Indonesia, the echoing gamelang, gong, and drum are used in ceremonies to uplift and send messages. the Australian Aboriginal and Native American shamanists use vocal toning and repetitive sound vibration with instruments created from nature in sacred ceremony to adjust any imbalance of the spirit, emotions or physical being.
The Priests of ancient Egypt knew how to use vowel sounds to resonate their energy centers or chakras. There is a direct link between different parts of the body and specific sounds. Such a technique appears extremely old, yet healing through sound goes back even further at least as far back as Atlantis where the power of sound was combined with the power of crystal.
Music Therapy and Psychiatry
Music therapists work with people with mental heath disorders including schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders and post traumatic stress disorder. Music therapy can provide this population with an alternative means of communication and a chance to express themselves through improvisation, song writing or lyric analysis.
Music Therapy and Social Skills
Psychiatric disorders can often impair social interaction and social skills. Music therapy can provide opportunities for safe group and individual musical experiences, address how people interact with their environment and examine how they affect their environment. Music can encourage social interaction among patients. The interaction may take the form of talking about thoughts and feelings, contributing to group experience, cooperating with others or responding to others’ needs. Interpersonal interaction can take place through music listening techniques lead by the music therapist (Thaut & Smeltekop, 1990).
Music Therapy and Emotions
Music therapy can provide a safe environment for a client to alleviate their feelings with a person who can “process and reflect the patient’s expression in a modified form” (Jensen, 1999, p. 47). Preference and familiar music are important in this area. “If patients are to be reached, the music employed must be that which they understand, at least to some extent” (Gaston, 1968, p. 22). Gfeller (1990) argues that music can “reflect, influence and alter emotional response” (p. 59) and therefore is a valuable therapeutic device in music therapy processes including “identification, awareness, reflection or expression of feelings and relevant issues” (p.59).
Music Therapy and Communication
People with mental health difficulties may find communication with others difficult. As music therapy can help social and interpersonal interaction and emotional expression, so to can it help communication difficulties. Sears (1968) reports that clients “may express in music or through musical preferences feelings not otherwise expressible. Music may speak where words fail” (p. 43). Music therapy techniques such as song writing, lyric analysis and improvisation can be used to assist the client in development of their communication skills.
Music Therapy and Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem can be part of many mental health disorders. Music therapy can act as a psychotherapeutic agent to improve low self-esteem. Improvisation, group singing, movement techniques and dancing can provide a client with sensory and social feedback, successful musical experiences that can promote self-worth and promote body awareness and identity (Thaut & Smeltekop, 1990).
Music Therapy and Relaxation
Anxiety disorders are common and can be helped by relaxation techniques. Studies show that music can be used to effectively reduce anxiety and promote muscle relaxation (Thaut & Smeltekop, 1990). Clients “musical preference” is important to consider when using music for relaxation purposes. The idea of stimulating and sedative music increasing and decreasing anxiety respectively does not apply to everyone. Music imagery can be used to help the client reduce tension and focus on positive thoughts and feelings (Gfeller & Thaut, 1999). Imaging should not be used with people who are delusional or have psychotic disorders.
Music Therapy and Cognition
Music is a time ordered, structured stimulus. People with psychotic disorders may have poor reality orientation whereas people with mood or anxiety disorders may have insight into their disability. Music therapy can provide treatment programs geared towards the client’s level of cognition and awareness. Structured reality based music experiences such as writing a song can help reality orientation, divert from neurotic concerns or obsessions and help improve impulsive behavior control (Gfeller & Thaut, 1999).