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Music Therapy: Can It Help Anyone?

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There's no wonder why people love music. The benefits a person can receive from listening to it are amazing. Researchers and scientists are finding that the least music can do for you is greatly reduce your stress level, and who couldn't use that. We have now seen a stroke victim who is unable to speak, sing along with their therapist for an entire song. A young girl with cerebral palsy who thinks slowly, doesn't move much, and has very poor verbal skills, bang on a drum in rhythm to an improvised song. How about an Alzheimer's patient that hears ballroom music and suddenly starts dancing with his wife, when he has been totally unresponsive for years. This is how music affects people, and it is also what we call music therapy.
The clinical definition of music therapy is "a career that combines musical skills with health care objectives. It is the use of music toward the restoration, maintenance, and improvement of mental and physical health." (University of Iowa) The idea of using music as a way of healing, physically, and psychologically, is as old as the writings of Aristotle and Plato, according to E. Thayer Gaston. But the professional use of it in the 20th century began after WWI and WWII when musicians would go to the Veteran's hospitals around the country to play for the thousands suffering from the emotional and the physical trauma of the wars. There were notable responses in many of the patients, which led the hospitals to hire musicians to play all the time. It was soon clear that the hospital musicians needed training before entering the facility and the demand grew for college curriculum. So in 1944 Michigan State University set up the first music therapy degree program in the country.
The thing about music therapy that people have to be careful with is that you need specific kinds of music to get different desired results. Samuel D. Uretsky says "the benefits of music are fairly obvious--it's comparatively inexpensive, and it can be reused over and over. That assumes that you pick the right music. Handel's "Water Music" can be used again and again; "Achey Breaky Heart" (by Billy Ray Cyrus) causes severe gastrointestinal distress after about eight bars." Which, anyone that has heard this song can attest to that! Uretsky also explains that sometimes patients do not respond to the "easy-listening" music that is generally used to get the analgesic effects desired, but they need specific types of music. The therapists go through many years of training to get to the point where they are able to find the right rhythms and sounds that their patient needs. Not just anyone is able to do this.
Janalea Hoffman states that there are four effects that music has on people, emotional, cognitive, physical, and transpersonal. The emotional response has to do with using music to bring back memories or buried emotions, which sometimes can heal physical ailments. Patients with a cognitive response will not get much, if anything at all, from music therapy. These are your music teachers, conductors, or professional musicians, who listen to a piece of music analytically instead of tuning in to how they feel when the music is playing. I believe that a person has to have an open mind to reap the benefits of this type of treatment. If the patient already believes that the music will not help them, then it won't. Ms. Hoffman believes that the physical response is the most important from a therapeutic viewpoint. Entrainment is "the body's ability to synchronize its rhythms with the rhythms of vibrating bodies around it. (Hoffman, 2) This is one reason that music affects us physiologically. She explains, for example, that babies in the neonatal unit are known to match their heart rhythms with the monitor beeps around them, speeding up and slowing down as it does. To me the transpersonal response would have to be the strangest. I don't think that many people would be willing, or able to do this. Ms. Hoffman says that these patients actually have a "spiritual" or "mystical" experience. They talk of an altered state of consciousness while listening to certain music, where they imagine they become something symbolic to them, to help heal some sort of emotional wound. Of these four responses, the emotional and the physical are the two that will have the greatest effect on the average person.
There are many reasons to use music in the medical field, also. One is to serve as an audioanalgesic, or sedative. For example, a patient with chronic pain is taught to use music to decrease the results of stress or to distract attention away from the pain. These are the two alternative interpretations to music therapy and both of them work. As for using the music as a distraction, there are two ways of doing this--general and specific. If you were going to have an operation would you rather have the music playing in the hallway of the hospital or would you rather have a headset so you could concentrate on just the music filling your thoughts. This could reduce your need for anesthesia. Roberta Metzlar says "the music becomes the focal point, rather than focusing on the procedure, patients focus on the music. It slows their breathing and produces a sedative response as they become in tune with the music's rhythm." Music also releases endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, which increases recovery time tremendously. I believe the most amazing thing about music therapy in the medical field is ...

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Keywords: music therapy who does it help, musica humana, music therapy risks, music can heal you, muzikos terapija

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