Music has been used as a therapeutic tool for centuries and has been shown to affect many areas of the brain, especially areas related to emotion, cognition, sensation, and movement. For this reason, music can be very effective in the treatment of many physical and mental problems such as depression, anxiety or hypertension.
Since antiquity, the power of music in people has been known and has been introduced into popular culture in phrases and sayings such as the famous expression “Music tames wild beasts.” This saying has its origin in a legend that has Orfeo as the protagonist that his singing and the way he played the lyre could stop hell and appease the fury of the most fearsome beasts. This ancient knowledge about the power of music in souls and the health of people has been preserved to this day.
Nowadays, music is an integral part of many people’s daily lives, so important that the task of setting up a playlist becomes something fundamental that requires time for dedication. We have playlists to study, to exercise, to relax, for intimate moments or to have fun, to dance or to cry … People listen to music while cooking, when going to work, taking a shower or doing laundry… Any time is ideal for listening to music.
Often the music is associated with the state of mind. A song can make us feel happy, sad, relax or give us a discharge of energy. Because music has such a tremendous impact on the mind and well-being of a person, it is not surprising that music therapy has been studied for the management of numerous medical conditions.
What is music therapy for?
Music can be used with guided images to produce altered states of consciousness that help discover hidden emotional responses and stimulate creative ideas. Music can also be used to help children develop their reading and language skills.
Music involves listening and responding in some way, no matter if it is live or recorded music. It is believed that discussing these responses helps people to express themselves in socially accepted ways and to examine personal problems.
Music therapy has been studied primarily concerning five conditions that we will see below:
Autism is a brain disorder that is associated with a wide range of developmental problems, especially those related to communication and social interaction. People who have autistic appearance disorders often show greater interest and response to music. This helps professionals in the teaching of verbal and nonverbal communication skills and the establishment of normal developmental processes.
The Dementia refers to a loss of cognitive function, an intellectual process that results in an understanding, perception or knowledge of the thoughts and ideas of one. Dementia can be caused by changes in the brain related to diseases or traumas. Changes can happen gradually or quickly.
Cognition is the act of thinking, perceiving and learning. Cognitive functions that can be affected by dementia include decision making, judgment, memory, spatial orientation, thinking, reasoning, and verbal communication. Dementia can also present as changes in behavior and personality, depending on the area or areas of the brain affected.
It has been discovered that music therapy applied to elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other mental disorders reduces the aggressive or agitated behavior, reduces the symptoms of dementia, improves mood and improves cooperation with daily tasks. Music therapy can also decrease the risk of heart or brain disease in elderly patients with dementia.
The depression or depressive disorder is a disease that affects the body, mood, and thoughts. Generally, depression is considered a mood disorder, but it affects your whole being. It changes the way a person eats and sleeps, the way they feel close to themselves and the way they think about life situations.
Unlike normal emotions of sadness, loss or passing mood, depressive disorders are persistent and can interfere with the person’s thoughts, behavior, mood, activity and physical health.
There is evidence that music therapy can increase the ability to respond to antidepressant medications. Music therapy at home can reduce heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and depressive mood.
There is evidence that playing music when fetuses are in their mother’s womb makes children respond better to music after birth. Relaxing music can help newborns to be less agitated. Preterm infants are better fed with music, so they gain weight more quickly, they also reduce hospitalization days and are more tolerant of stimulation. Your heart rate can also be reduced, and your sleep will be more profound after therapy.
The insomnia is difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up early in the morning. It is a common health problem that can cause excessive daytime sleepiness and lack of energy. Long-term insomnia makes a person feel tired, depressed and irritable.
A person with insomnia usually has problems paying attention, learning and remembering information, so their academic or work performance can decrease dramatically. Severe insomnia prolonged over a long period can cause neurochemical changes that can cause problems such as depression and anxiety, which aggravates the patient’s insomnia problem.
Music can improve the quality of sleep, as well as its longer duration, greater efficiency and less time needed to fall asleep. Therefore, music therapy can reduce sleep disorders and improve patient performance during the day.
What is a music therapy session like?
The methods of intervention used in music therapy can be:
- Active techniques: When a person makes music, whether it’s singing, playing musical instruments, composing or improvising music.
- Receptive techniques: When a person listens to and responds to music, such as through dance or the analysis of the lyrics of songs.
Active and receptive techniques are often combined during treatment, and both are used as starting points for the discussion of feelings, values, and goals.
Music therapy can be performed individually or in groups, and music can be chosen by the therapist or by the person in therapy. The music therapist will ensure that the type and mode of music selected, as well as the moment of musical intervention, are adequate to meet the needs and objectives of the therapy.
When therapists introduce music to therapy, they often base their selections on the Iso principle, that is, that the chosen music is as close as possible to the patient’s state of mind because it will have more influence on it. Therefore, the therapist tries to ensure that the letter and melody of the chosen piece of music match the mood and psychological state of the person in therapy.
The composition of songs is a common practice in music therapy. It involves writing original songs or modifying existing songs. A person can alter a song by changing some words or lines, adding new verses or changing the lyrics entirely but maintaining the existing melody. In the case of original songs, the therapist can provide an emotion or theme to serve as a starting point.
Music therapy is not for everyone
Music therapy usually produces positive results, but it is not recommended as an independent treatment for severe medical and psychiatric problems. While music can help alleviate some symptoms of different conditions, other forms of treatment may be necessary, such as taking medication, physical therapy or psychotherapy.
Just as certain music can help induce relaxation and states of inner peace, another type of music can cause mental agitation. Music that reflects the patient’s personal preferences is more likely to have the desired effects.
It is recommended that during the therapy the listener does not use headphones as they interfere with the patient’s cooperation with the therapeutic procedures. Also, listening to music at high volume can damage the ears and cause unwanted hearing loss.
Music should not be used as the only treatment to solve the potentially dangerous medical or psychiatric conditions of the patient. Nor should it be used if the patient does not especially like music, because it can cause the opposite effect, that is, create agitation or stress.
As with all health-related issues, it is recommended that you consult with your trusted physician before beginning complementary or alternative therapy. Talking with a medical professional will help you choose the most effective treatment for your needs.