Music is good for the soul — and music therapy is good for the body

By Saybrook University

686px-J_F_C_Hecker_1832_Tarantella_2 Music is good for the soul – maybe that’s why new research shows it can also be healing.

A study published in the journal Music and Medicine featured a successful project that used music therapy with palliative (or hospice) care. Sandi Curtis, professor at Concordia University Department of Creative Arts, pulled together professional musicians to work alongside music therapists to provide 101 terminally ill individuals ranging in age from 18-101 years old with single music therapy sessions that lasted between 15 to 60 minutes.

The goal of the intervention was to relieve the pain, encourage relaxation, increase quality of life and improve mood. The results were positive, so positive that a few of the families and participants requested music be played at the time that they died. Music soothed the soul during one of the most deeply soulful and spiritual points in life.

A second study published in PLoS looked a little deeper into how music affects our mood. Many can relate to the saddening effect of listening to a dreary song or the  sheer, dance on the table, kinda of happiness a good song can bring. Researchers Jacob Jolij and Maaike Meurs found that not only do our moods shift but so does our visual perceptions. For this study, music listeners were shown an image of a smiley face and sad face while they were listening to music. The results showed that while listening to happy music people saw a happy face more frequently than a sad face. This was the result even when they were actually being shown a sad face.

Happy music brings a smile to a face even when one may not actually be there.

A Cochrane Review in 2010 found that music therapy can be helpful in healing acquired brain injuries. They reviewed seven studies that included 184 participants. The results suggested that music therapy may be helpful in improving walking skills – and more. Melody Gardot suffered a severe brain injury in a 2003 accident which left her without her voice or her ability to walk. Her physician suggested she use music to help her heal.  Gardot started by singing the songs of others then eventually writing her own. She attributes her recovery and music career to music therapy. “Without any room for compromise, music is the reason why I am speaking to you.” Today she has released four albums and has become a strong public advocate for the positive healing effects of music.

Another study published in the British Journal of Medicine found that music therapy incorporated with 20 regular therapy sessions showed more positive outcomes than standard therapeutic treatment alone.

Therapists have known that music therapy has benefits for years:  Legendary therapist Carl Rogers created the field of person centered expressive arts, bringing together the creative energies of movement, sound, visual arts, creative arts, drama and music with a humanistic therapeutic orientation. Natalie Rogers, who co-created the field with her father, has provided training to therapists in the Bay Area as a way to help them, help their clients to find a way to express their selves, their emotions, their fears and their hopes through the arts, including music.

Even so, adoption of music therapy in traditional psychotherapy or treatment areas is slow to come. Nonetheless the evidence and stories are growing.

The benefits of music therapy have been showcased in the March issue of Music and Medicine as being the effective in at providing healing and wellness. It may not be long before we will see the use of expressive arts therapy becoming less of an outlier practice and more of an integral partin treatment/healing centers.

 — Makenna Berry