Music for Healthcare

My heart which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary. Martin Luther (1483-1546)

There are a number of approaches for musical use in health care settings. Any approach relies on the inherent therapeutic possibilites of music to relieve stress, pain and promote well-being. While we often think of music being played in a concert hall, or on the radio or in a classroom, music as therapy is strong. The therapeutic use of music is not new. There are historical accounts of music being used therapeutically over the centuries. In the biblical account of David & Saul, David played his harp for King Saul to lift him out of his depression. In the Ancient Greek culture, Apollo was the god of music and medicine and he used music to drive out disease and return a person to a state of harmony and order. Alexander the Great was restored to sanity by the music of a lyre. Buddhist monks have been singing healing chants for over 2000 years. In 11th century France, “infirmary music” was used by nurses in care for the dying.

There are a number of approaches for musical use in the healthcare setting. Any approach relies on the inherent therapeutic possibilities of music to relieve stress and pain and promote well-being. Each one has distinguishing features. Music therapy involves a therapeutic process, a music therapist, and a relationship that develops through music and the process. Both the music and the therapeutic relationship serve as healing components. In music therapy there is a definable process with clinical goals and outcomes for every session. Music medicine is music used by medical personnel and allied health professionals as an adjunct to various medical treatments or situations. Examples of music medicine interventions include background music in waiting rooms or other areas or vibroacoustic therapy before surgery. Performing Arts medicine is the study and treatment of performance-related medical and psychological problems. For example, tendonitis is a common inflammation for musicians. Repetitive motion day after day for pianists and string players is an occupational hazard. Nodes and other inflammations of the vocal chords would be a common threat to singers. Programmes involving music may be developed by recreational therapists or chaplains or volunteers. The outcomes are often psychosocial and provide an opportunity for the healthcare institution to interface with the community at large.

Music has the capacity to appeal to the whole person and reach into every domain. Music making seems to activate and synchronize neural firing patterns that orchestrate and connect multiple cognitive brain sites. Music may activate areas in our brain most involved in emotional intelligence. Music has the capacity to surface and even unlock feelings that have been buried or traumatized. Music enhances social interaction. The presence of music favors greater person to person interactions and offers participation and engagement. Music may be used to increase attention and focus and regulate behaviors. Music may influence our muscle control and physical strength. Many trainers now use music combined with visualization to regulate movement and report reduced stress, increased focus and better performance times. Music offers intellectual stimulation, order and structure. The transcendent nature of music reaches into the unseen spiritual depths and may bring refreshment, calm, peace.

Music has the power to heal. Music therapist Dr. Deforia Lane says that 30 minutes of a music therapy session can boost the immune function and increase salivary IgA. Studies show that music has the potential to alter moods through lowered heart rate, and decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol. Music is used as a mood enhancer and regulator. Soothing music may reduce stress and anxiety. This is important because we know that both our immune system and memory is negatively impacted by chronic elevated stress levels. Researchers speculate that excess noise can raise blood pressure by 10%. Depending on the music you choose, music can calm you down or perk you up. Music can impact nearly any kind of blood flow response desired. Respiration is affected by music. Deeper, slower breaths per minute contribute to calmness, emotional control and better metabolism.

Music has spiritual power. According to Helen Bonny a well respected music therapist and creator of the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) a psychotherapeutic programme using classical music, music can enhance our present life, enrich it and lead it in fulfilling directions. Music may uncover the depths of our inner person. It may also serve transcendentally and lift our spirits beyond our flesh.

There is an intrinsic quality about music that is social and to be shared. The fact that music is most often performed together in ensembles like bands, choirs and orchestras underlies this musical dynamic. Music is about relationship: among the performers, composers, audience.

Music can bring a sense of belonging especially if you are part of the ensemble. This may provide identity not just as a group but also as an individual and may provide meaning and purpose. The sense of contribution may bring empowerment and even ownership as an individual learns to take responsibility for their part in the music making. The structural nature of music may provide order in disrupted thinking. Music can also provide structure to routines by signaling when something begins or ends or signaling seasonal celebrations. Music provides a sense of enjoyment and enhances life. Listening or actively music-making, you can become more aware of feelings. The familiarity and comfort music offers may ease difficult transitions and support integration into new situations.

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