Music Therapy: A New Frontier for Healing

By Helen Gu for Athena Music & Wellness Therapy

 

Photo by Cem Ersozlu 

 

“Cause you had a bad day. You’re taking one down. You sing a sad song just to turn it around” (Bad Day- song by Daniel Powter). 

 

We’ve all had those days when nothing seems to be going our way. Maybe you got a bad grade on an exam, ran into traffic on the way to work and missed a meeting, or have an insane amount of deadlines to meet. But then you plug in your headphones, put on your favorite playlist, and all your worries seem to melt away. If you’ve ever been in this situation, or something similar, you’ve experienced the therapeutic effects of music!

 

Research has demonstrated that music therapy has positive effects on individuals with depression, anxiety, and a variety of other conditions impacting mental health. What you may not know, however, is that music therapy may also have beneficial effects on a variety of physical conditions as well. 

 

What is Music Therapy? 

 

Music therapy is the use of music in a therapeutic context to address a variety of physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. What sets it apart from just listening to music on a daily basis is that music therapy involves clinical, evidence-based interventions performed by a licensed music therapist in accordance with a strict set of guidelines. Music therapy may involve various aspects of music, including but not limited to listening to songs, playing instruments, writing music, lyric discussion, or singing. 

 

In practice, music therapy usually involves working with a licensed music therapist. Music therapists are not just trained in music, but also in clinical skills such as treatment planning, patient assessment, cognitive neuroscience, and medical terminology. When you first begin to work with a music therapist, you may begin by identifying your goals for treatment. These goals may include: 

  • Boosting your mood

  • Improving self-esteem

  • Enhancing emotional expression

  • Developing coping skills or helping to process traumatic events

  • Strengthening motor ability 

  • Decreasing anxiety and depression

  • Promoting social relationships

  • And More! 

Anyone can benefit from music therapy. No previous musical experience or musical ability is needed to participate in music therapy. Children and adolescents with learning and/or developmental disabilities may find music therapy to be beneficial for improving communication skills or motor ability. Adults may find music therapy to be beneficial for relieving stress or treating physical and mental illnesses. 

 

What Does a Music Therapy Session Look Like? 

Music Therapy sessions are often conducted in hospital, nursing home, community center, school, or psychiatric facility settings, although music therapists may also be found in private practice. Music therapy sessions can be one-on-one or in group settings, depending on the program. Sessions can be carried out according to a regular schedule set by you and your music therapist or conducted on a more “as-needed” basis. 

 

You and your music therapist will work together to develop a program that addresses your individual goals. For example, a patient receiving music therapy to improve their motor planning skills may practice hitting a drum to the rhythm of a song or sing along to a song that involves performing different motor tasks. Each music therapist has their own routine for different therapy goals. Styles and techniques may also vary depending on the musical background of the music therapist. It is important to communicate with your musical therapist to find the right balance between your needs and their strengths. 


Benefits of Music Therapy, According to Current Research

For Children: 

A review paper published in a Swiss journal of medicine in 2019 summarizes recent research findings regarding the use of music therapy in pediatric healthcare. 

 

Autism 

Music therapy has been applied in the field of autism since the mid-1940s. Children with autism-spectrum disorders often have difficulties with social skills and communication. Using music as a method of expression and communication through music therapy is thus a promising intervention for children with autism-spectrum disorders. Research has shown that music therapy can have positive effects on social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication skills, social adaptation, behavior, and even the quality of parent-child relationships. 

 

Epilepsy 

Music has the potential to reduce seizure activity. Research in this field has demonstrated a potential “Mozart effect”, in which a reduction in seizure recurrence is observed after routinely listening to classical music. However, evidence is still preliminary, and more research is needed in this field. 

 

Neonatal Care

Music interventions have been used more and more in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in recent years. Premature babies undergo a significant amount of development outside the womb, and environmental factors may influence a newborn’s well-being and development. Meaningful auditory stimuli, such as music, may have positive effects on the neural development of these newborns, and a few studies have found improvements in sleep, food intake, and heart/respiratory rates among newborns who received music-based interventions in the NICU. 

 

Pain, Anxiety, and Stress Relating to Medical Procedures

Children undergoing surgery or other medical procedures may experience elevated levels of stress and anxiety, which may negatively affect their health and the healing process. Research on pain and music therapy has shown that music can reduce pain during and after surgical procedures. Music therapy has also been shown to reduce anxiety and stress leading up to and after surgery as well. 

 

In Adults: 

Depression

Depression is a very common mood disorder that can result in loss of social function and general reduced quality of life in patients. Research on the effectiveness of music therapy in treating depressive symptoms is still ongoing and limited, but shows promise. For example, a 2017 systematic review of 9 different studies involving 421 different patients found that music therapy provides short-term benefits for people with depression, improving functioning in daily life and reducing anxiety. Current research suggests that music therapy works best when combined with traditional treatments for depression, such as antidepressant medications. 

 

Insomnia and Sleep Disorders

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. Many people find that music or white noise helps them fall asleep, and there are a variety of sleep aid devices on the market that make use of music. Scientific research supports this, and a number of studies have found that music therapy can benefit individuals with sleep disorders by helping to relax people before bed. 

 

Cancer

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can take a huge toll on an individual’s mental and physical health. Music therapy has been shown to help reduce anxiety in cancer patients beginning radiation therapy, as well as potentially helping them cope with the emotional stress of their diagnosis and side effects of cancer treatment. 

 

How Athena Can Help

Music therapy can benefit your health in a variety of different ways, as shown by years of scientific research in the field. However, keep in mind that music therapy has not been shown to be adequate treatment for mental and physical disorders on its own. 

 

Athena Music & Wellness Therapy is a global wellness solutions provider specializing in clinical music therapy, music therapist education, wellness technology, and music therapist licensing. Our professors and music therapists are European-board (AICQ SICEV) certified and specialize in a variety of music therapy techniques. We offer both teletherapy and in-person music therapy appointments. For more information or to request an appointment, please visit our website: https://athenamwt.com/what-is-music-therapy/ 

 

Sources: 

  • Aalbers, Sonja, et al. “Music Therapy for Depression.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2017, doi:10.1002/14651858.cd004517.pub3. 

  • Leubner, Daniel, and Thilo Hinterberger. “Reviewing the Effectiveness of Music Interventions in Treating Depression.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 8, 2017, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01109. 

  • Rossetti, Andrew, et al. “The Impact of Music Therapy on Anxiety in Cancer Patients Undergoing Simulation for Radiation Therapy.” International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, vol. 99, no. 1, 2017, pp. 103–110., doi:10.1016/j.ijrobp.2017.05.003. 

  • Scheve, Andrea M. “Music Therapy, Wellness, and Stress Reduction.” Complementary and Alternative Approaches to Biomedicine, by Edwin L. Cooper and Nobuo Yamaguchi, Springer, 2011. 

  • Stegemann, Thomas, et al. “Music Therapy and Other Music-Based Interventions in Pediatric Health Care: An Overview.” Medicines, vol. 6, no. 1, 2019, p. 25., doi:10.3390/medicines6010025. 

  • Wang, Chun-Fang, et al. “Music Therapy Improves Sleep Quality in Acute and Chronic Sleep Disorders: A Meta-Analysis of 10 Randomized Studies.” International Journal of Nursing Studies, vol. 51, no. 1, 2014, pp. 51–62., doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2013.03.008.

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