What is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music by a trained professional to achieve non-musical goals (relieving stress, anxiety, depression) based on the needs of the individual. Music therapy is considered under the umbrella of Creative and Alternative Therapies (CATs).
So… Is Listening to Your Playlist Music Therapy?
The use of music as a therapy can be looked at as a spectrum from music listening initiated by patients to music medicine (pre-recorded music offered by medical personnel for symptom management) and to music therapy (the psychotherapeutic use of music). So, yes – listening to your own playlist can also be a case of music playing a therapeutic role, but what happens in formal music therapy sessions is very different.
Where Did Music Therapy Begin?
Although the cultural roots of music therapy were laid down in ancient wisdoms of all cultures – from the Greeks to the Indians and Egyptians, the modern advent of music therapy occurred in the 18th century. In the early 1800s, writings on the therapeutic value of music appeared in medical dissertations.
After the World Wars, musicians went to veterans’ hospitals around the country to play for veterans in hospitals. The patients' notable physical and emotional responses to music led the doctors and nurses to request the hiring of musicians by the hospitals.
In the 1940s, music therapy began to be established as a formal clinical discipline. Everett Thayer Gaston, known as the “father of music therapy,” was instrumental in moving the profession forward in terms of an organizational and educational standpoint. Gaston identified the power of music to control behaviour. As he became interested in using music as a tool for understanding human behaviour, Gaston discovered the possibility of relating music education to medicine.
Since then, the reach of music therapy has only grown in leaps and bounds, and music therapy is currently recognized, practiced, and researched around the world, helping people across the globe.
How Can Music Therapy Help?
A large number of research studies have been conducted to empirically establish the effectiveness of music therapy. It has found its application in a wide range of fields – treatment of ASD, dementia, neurocognitive disorders, motor difficulties, eating disorders, psychotic disorders, mood disorders, anxiety, etc. Music therapy is also routinely used alongside conventional allopathic treatments for chronic conditions like cancer to improve the quality of the patient’s care. In these cases, it can be used to alleviate pain, reduce nausea, reduce anxiety levels, decrease discomfort, improve breathing, and counteract insomnia.
Clinical uses aside, music therapy can also be used to increase focus and mindfulness, foster calmness, confidence and empowerment, and emotional intimacy in people. Music therapy definitely goes a long way in boosting overall wellbeing.
Enhancing Concentration: Music can be a magic cure for your attention span! Playing the right kind of music in your background can help keep your focus from wandering off your screen or your page. Music has properties that can engage the attention systems of the brain, which aids you in increasing your concentration on work.
Inculcating Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a state of mind that involves a focus on being aware of your thoughts and feelings at a given point in time, without interpretation, evaluation or judgment. Music has been likened to meditation in that it leads us to take a present-centered perspective on reality, and helps us engage with it.
Relieving Stress: Probably one of the most commonly known and experienced effects of music is its incredible ability to soothe stress. There’s really nothing like putting on your favourite music after a long day at work, isn’t it? Research into music and stress suggests that listening to music can lower our heart rate and cortisol levels, release endorphins and improve our sense of well-being, distract us, reducing physical and emotional stress levels, and also reduce stress-related symptoms, whether used in a clinical environment or in daily life.
Okay, but Is Music Therapy for Me?
Given its wide range of uses from overall wellbeing to being a therapy used for specific issues, you can consider music therapy as an option in your journey.
And of course, if you enjoy music in any form, then yes – music therapy is most definitely for you. You don’t need to be trained or even “good” (in the conventional sense) to immerse yourself in the benefits of music therapy. Music therapy does not focus as much on the product as it does on the process. If you’re willing to engage with the music, be sure to hop right in!