Effects of Music Therapy

1.      Introduction

Music is a coherence of sounds pleasant for hearing. It has always been appreciated by people of all ages.  Music therapy history originates from the ancient times. People believed in music as a healing instrument. It is mentioned in the Old Testament that music was used by shamans,  priests, physicians, and lately by music therapists.

Music therapy is defined as the use of music and musical elements by a qualified music therapist with a client or a group in a process designed to facilitate and promote communication, relationships, and other objectives in order to meet physical, emotional, mental, social, and cognitive needs (Wigram, Pederson and Bonde 30). The contemporary music therapy started developing during the World War I and World War II when music was used for treating wounded soldiers and veterans, and relieving them of emotional tension and pain (Cooper and Yamaguchi 253). The first academic program for music specialists was established in 1944 at Michigan State University. Later came more universities representing their own degree and training programs for future music therapists. The National Association for Music Therapy was founded in 1950.  NAMT developed standards for training programs, created a registry, and published research and clinical journals on the subject (“History of Music Therapy.”).

To become a credentialed music therapist today, one must be certified by the Certification Board for Music Therapists that was founded in 1983 and since then has ensured holding to  high standards of the specialists of this profession.

There are many associations worldwide which deal with professional music therapists, enlighten people on the aims of music therapy, and help them  find a skilled therapist for  treatment. The most well-known of these associations is the American Music Therapy Association.  AMTA has a comprehensive program for training future music professionals and is recognized as an authoritative credential in many states, which means that the music therapy in the U.S. has become a legal way of treatment (“Therapeutic Music Services”).

The effects of the music therapy have been studied by  researchers from all over the world for decades now. These studies focus on the influence of  music therapy on pregnant women, children, and adolescents with behavioral disorders, autistic children and adults, cancer patients, elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and many others. The results of these studies amazed the professionals adhering to the traditional medicine, as music therapy provided by a trained specialist had only positive effects on the subjects. Music can relieve stress, alleviate pain, reduce tension in muscles, stabilize heart rate and blood pressure, and enhance memory. These and some other positive effects allow the music therapy to be in great demand today in  assisting or replacing the traditional  way of treatment in medicine.

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Music therapy sessions can be provided individually or in groups, depending on the goals of  treatment. Before the beginning of music therapy sessions, therapists assess clients as any other practitioners, in order to define the condition  of a patient and aims needed to be achieved during the treatment course. The peculiar effect of the music on the  brain, activation of certain zones of the brain, and stimulation of the immune system, serves as guidance for a good professional in  choosing the type of music and methods to be applied. Music used in the music therapy is chosen according to the client’s needs. Soothing or vivid music, certain rhythm produces  different effects on a person, and it is taken into account by the specialist in advance. Music therapy can be active or receptive, depending on the way it is organized: music therapist can play some musical instrument himself, improvising, involving a client in playing or singing, as well as using records with purposefully  selected tunes for listening.

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Music therapy is often used as a means of treatment, but healthy people can also  feel the positive effect of music.

2.      Effects of music therapy from birth to death

Music therapy during pregnancycan have positive effects both on a mother-to-be and her future child. Because of hormone reorganization, pregnant women can encounter certain uncomfortable moments such as stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Stress during pregnancy can lead to a lot of troubles not only for a woman, but for a fetus. Although, the long-term stress influence on the organism of a pregnant woman is not acknowledged, some studies show that stress can lead to heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even ADHD for a child. When cortisol, the stress hormone, exposes a fetus for a long period, it affects the future child negatively. Placenta blocks stress hormones during pregnancy, yet its healing effect fades gradually from the second to the third trimester, leaving the negative effect of the stress to grow accordingly.

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Studies have shown that music therapy influence on a mother-to-be is highly positive. It relieves stress, anxiety and helps her to relax. In addition, studies investigating  the influence of music  on a fetus have proved that the fetus produces responses to music, which stimulates its heart and makes the fetus move inside. Music therapy is acknowledged to be useful not only during the gestation period, but during labor and delivery. Numerous researches in this sphere have shown that regular prenatal music therapy in the third trimester can facilitate labors and delivery, relieving pain, helping mothers to manage stress, and controlling the rhythm of breath. Mothers-to-be should be instructed by music therapists in advance on how to focus during music therapy in order to get the right effect from it. Prenatal music therapy, especially from the moment when the fetus’ auditory system and skills become fully functional (this usually happens on the 24-26 week of gestation), is closely connected with the influence of music on newborns. It is well-known that a newbornchild recognizes well his mother’s voice and the voices he regularly heard during his staying in the mother’s womb. G. Federico’s studies have shown that music contributes to reduction of  peri-natal stress, giving the newborn the possibility of being connected through his auditory system with a sound atmosphere that he already knows (Federico 7).

Music helps to manage children’sbehavior. If they have any problems with going to bed and sleep, via music therapy they become relaxed and fall asleep quicker. Music is a great teacher. Understanding a child’s needs at a particular  moment helps parents to choose music, soothing or vivid and dynamic, in order to prepare the child for certain activities. Sounds of music help children to  stay focused on what they are doing without being distracted. For children, music lessons can become a way of self-expression as well as a way of  gaining confidence. This is because music can evoke a range of emotions. Thus, by listening to music and participating in musical processes the child forgets about his fears,  unbends, and develops creative skills. Music therapy can also stabilize and improve communication skills between peers.

Positive effects of music therapy can be observed when dealing with adolescents. Skilled music therapist like a good psychologist knows how to help an adolescent to cope with his or her problems, assisting with release of  emotions of a teenager and relieving stress. However, in spite of speaking with a teen directly, which can cause certain difficulties as troubled adolescents can have problems with communication, the therapist uses music that establishes trust and safe environment. Music therapy with adolescents can include lyrics writing, composing music, and using standard music therapy approaches depending on a situation.

Widely used for dealing with different kinds of disorders and ailments that children may have, music therapy is considered to be safe for immature organisms unlike  some  medication courses of treatment. Speaking of hospitalization cases, music therapy can help children to get used to the hospital environment and to cope with anxiety. Autism and ADHD disorder are the most controversial ailments to be subjected to medication treatment. The worldwide studies demonstrate the effectiveness of the music therapy as an alternative method to traditional medication.

Music therapy is efficient in treating autistic children, as well as children with developmental and communication disabilities. By involving  children in playing instruments, singing, and dancing, music lessons develop their communication skills and help them  overcome the fear of entering the social environment. Via music, children begin to talk to each other, thereby their language is stimulated. Music makes them more responsive and motivated, stimulates and enhances awareness of their bodies (Wigram, Pederson and Bonde 170).

Treating ADHD children with music is a good alternative to the medication treatment course, as there is no risk of negative effects of drug abuse. Music therapy can bring only positive effects to children, making them less irritable and hyper, more attentive and focused, and calming them down. As a result, general behavioral qualities of the ADHD children can be improved.

Not only are the children found to benefit from  exposure  to the healing effects of  music and music therapy, but it has also been established that adults do not disregard the opportunities of alternative medicine. As far as the music therapy is approved to be used in hospitals, hospices, treatment centers, and other health facilities, music therapists provide their services to the diseased people there.   

The effect of the music therapy on terminally illduring  a single music session was shown in the research by R. E. Krout. The effect surpassed all the expectations: the positive impact of music  was it significantly increased pain control, physical comfort, and relaxation (Krout 387).

The other research into  the effects of music therapy on people diagnosed with terminal cancershowed that thequality of life was significantly higher for the subjects receiving music therapy sessions. However, the results of this research also indicated no difference between the time of death of those who were subjected to music therapy and those who were not. (Hilliard 130). It only confirms the fact that unfortunately music cannot stop the death yet. Music can ease and cure certain diseases, but it is not omnipotent. For cancer patients in hospitals, music therapy serves as a means to lessen pain, reduce anxiety, increase vigor, and improve mood. Sometimes music can help cancer patients  overcome the barrier to communication  with their relatives.

Music therapy is often applied in treating dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.Numerous studies have proved the positive effects of  music therapy on the elderly patients with these disorders. Researchers indicate the strong behavioral improvement in  patients towards the surrounding social environment. A number of music therapy sessions on the long-term basis have showed the decrease of agitation and aggressiveness in patients, making them calmer and helping  control emotions. Music also helps  patients  cope with depression and can help them recall  past memories. Some of the patients can even learn new songs as it is easier for them to recollect newly learnt music than spoken words. The response to the music in dementia patients appears to be great. However, the majority of  studies in this sphere were done within small groups of elderly people, thus the results cannot be generalized. The effect of the music therapy on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients proves to be individual, depending on the initial state and stage of the patient’s disease, as well as on the quality and length of the treatment course, meaning the number and frequency of music sessions.

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Touching upon a question of passing away people, there is a music therapy organization serving their purposes.  MTAI (Music-Thanatology Association International) provides services on music therapy at the bedside in homes, hospitals, and hospice centers. The music thanatologist uses harp and voice in order to serve the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the dying and their loved ones (“Therapeutic Music Services”). In this case the pleasant sounds of the harp help release a person and his or her relatives from pain and worries of loss, and suppress negative emotions.

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