Music Therapy

Power of Music by Louis Gallait

Many emotions and feelings in life are simply part of the human condition. We really do not need an explanation as to why we love sunsets, snow capped mountains, gazing out across the ocean, walking our favorite trail and a myriad of other things that give us a feeling of peace and comfort. Music is one of those things that we innately know as being something special and that has a certain power over our emotions. Although our tastes in music vary, it is a therapeutic common denominator that we all seem to share. It is a therapy that we all have used, and we see it everywhere. Those young people walking down the street with a boom box on their shoulder, or those crowds flocking to the concerts, are all reaching out for the solace they find in music. Often it is an escapism that takes us back to another time or place. Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s South Pacific may transport us to a south sea island for the evening. A good portion of the country music songs seem to be geared towards those who may have experienced problems associated with love. Remember that old song by Bobby Edwards, You’re the Reason? “Sometimes I go for a walk, look at the moon, strum my guitar, sing out of tune! Honey, you’re the reason I don’t sleep at night.” Songs like this definitely have therapeutic value. These songs number in the thousands, possibly even the hundreds of thousands, and every last one of them is, in some way, therapeutic to someone, even if only to the writer, but let’s take it up a notch. Music is indeed a valuable tool for therapy even, and especially, in a clinical setting? If we take a look at the history of music as a therapy, we find that it goes back thousands of years. It was definitely a force in Biblical times when David played the harp for King Saul to rid him of a bad spirit. Also, I suspect that many of the Psalms were simply songs of praise written by David as he sat alone in the Judean hills while watching the stars and contemplating the glory of God; songs that he would later play for the King and, I’m sure, others. Therapeutic? Of course! Also, as early as 400 B.C., Hippocrates, Greek father of medicine, played music for his mental patients and Aristotle described music as a force that purified the emotions. Plato’s famous quote is well known and often repeated by music therapists: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” According to an excellent paper published by The Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University, “Music therapy is used with individuals of all ages and with a variety of conditions, including: psychiatric disorders, medical problems, physical handicaps, sensory impairments, developmental disabilities, substance abuse communication disorders, interpersonal problems and aging. It is also used to: improve learning, build self-esteem, reduce stress, support physical exercise, and facilitate a host of other health-related activities.” According to Wikipedia, therapists employing music in their practice can be found all over! They work in hospitals, psychiatric facilities, schools, prisons, community centers, training institutes and universities. Some of the conditions where music therapy is especially useful in clinical settings are: Adolescents with mood disorders , for use in stroke therapy, for use in heart disease by helping to control heart rate, blood pressure, etc., and in cases of schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and dementia. All of these areas are indeed significant and interesting, but there is one study that stands out as being especially significant and interesting. Dr. Daniel Levitin is an American cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, writer and an accomplished musician. According to Dr. Levitin, music therapy has shown to have especially good success with children. He says that music therapy starts in the womb when the fetus is surrounded by amniotic fluid where it hears the mother’s heartbeat, conversations, music and environmental noises. Further, another expert in the field, Dr. Alexandra Lamont of Keele University in the UK, also discovered that the fetus does indeed hear music! She found out in her studies that, a year after they were born, children prefer music that they were exposed to in the womb. She says that the auditory system of the fetus is fully functional about twenty weeks after conception, which is about four months before birth. I have only mentioned a few of the areas where music is used, both in a clinical setting and otherwise, to help people heal. On a much wider scale, it is a therapy that we all use in our in our own private little world. It helps get us through the day and is a therapy that we all love and appreciate.

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