• Denae Asel-Templin

The Power of Music

Music is a universal language that goes beyond cultural and language boundaries. Music can also transcend mental and physical barriers. A special type of therapy, music therapy, uses music to help improve physical, cognitive, and social functions. The American Music Association raises awareness about the effectiveness of music therapy.

How does music therapy work?

There are two main types of music therapy. Passive Music Therapy involves listening to music, either recorded or live playing by therapists. Active Music Therapy, on the other hand, can involve singing, playing various instruments, and grooving to the rhythm.

Sessions may also include discussing emotions in music, analyzing song meanings, writing lyrics, composing, and performing. Both listening and reacting to music triggers the brain in areas that affect cognition, emotions, and physical ability.

Who can music therapy help?

Common conditions that music helps with are anxiety and depression. Music relaxes and improves mood, while also lowering stress. Many find themselves incorporating music into their lives beyond the therapy program.

Kids with autism benefit from group music therapy, as it teaches them behavior and social skills. Additionally, it allows for a safe environment to engage and focus their attention. It's suggested that music helps enhance the bond between joy and emotion for autistic children, leading to a higher willingness to respond.

Music therapy can also work wonders for patients who have memory loss like Alzheimer's patients. Alzheimer's patients react especially well to music therapy, since the brain’s sense of rhythm is not affected. Hearing favorite songs can help patients recall childhood memories. Combining music therapy with other art forms and physical activity is an anticipated future stepping stone.

Benefits of music therapy

Reduces tension and anxiety — Slow music helps calm the body and allows your muscles to relax, while quieting the mind, distracting from stress.

Encourages social interaction — Engaging in a group activity, regardless of condition, is beneficial and teaches several key behaviors, such as eye contact.

Emotional release outlet — Music of varying tempos can help promote different feelings, freeing bottled up emotions.

Sensory environment — Since music can work as a sensory calming element for many, it helps for distress and management of overload.

Recall memories — Music and rhythm are strongly tied to long-term memory, which helps recollection.

Manage pain — Again, as a stress reliever and a sensory environment, music helps people redirect and manage their relationship with pain.

Promotes movement — People react instinctively to the rhythm, play instruments and join others in movement and music making.

Practice vocal fluency — Singing, even involuntarily, helps otherwise non-verbal patients.

Is it right for you or your loved one?

Music therapy was created to be an enjoyable treatment alternative. However, if you or your loved one are music averse, then, other expressive art therapies might be better. If you know that some songs bring back bad memories, do your best to avoid them by bringing them up. If overstimulation can lead to meltdowns, consider starting in individual sessions before moving to group sessions, or in a familiar environment. On the opposite end, if you can visibly see your loved one greatly enjoying music, you can contact a licensed music therapist to find out more information.

In the end, music therapy has the potential to help in a variety of ways. As Keith Richards said, “Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.”

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