Clinical evidence suggests that from birth to the end of life, music has the potential to help keep anyone happier and healthier.
Anyone who’s experienced a moving concert or the effects of hearing a special song understands how deeply music can impact the human experience. Its influence is not only emotional, but physical, too.
Quite simply, for patients, music has the power to heal. To harness the full extent of that power, however, you need the professional expertise of a board-certified music therapist, or MT-BC. A certified music therapist is a health care professional educated in the science of using musical experiences to help achieve a patient’s health or education goals.
What is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. As part of a personalized, integrated health care plan, music therapy can offer a wide range of benefits for the brain, body, and spirit and can be used to help a wide variety of patients and home health care clients.
What Does Music Therapy Look Like?
A music therapist’s expertise lies in assessing an individual’s needs and creating a customized treatment plan. Depending on one’s health or education goals, music interventions can take many forms.
To relieve pain, music can be used as a distraction and relaxation strategy. Many other music therapies are active or creative like singalongs, drumming, dance, movement, songwriting, improvisation, or games like Name That Tune. Some therapies are receptive such as vibroacoustic therapy (experiencing musical vibrations) or music reminiscence (often beneficial for people with dementia). Others involve music stimulation to awaken one’s cognitive functions.
The Scientific Benefits of Music Therapy
A vast body of research has shown that music therapy can positively affect perception, emotion, cognition, attention, behavior, and communication. Music has been shown to cause pleasure and muscle relaxation—hence, reduce the pain response—and to stimulate brain activity and emotional processing.
Studies show that learning a musical instrument can improve reasoning and fine motor skills. And overall, music is known to trigger the same part of the brain that produces dopamine (the pleasure chemical)—helping to explain why the right music can just make you feel good.
In fact, because positive emotions are known to benefit the immune system (fighting infection and disease), endocrine system (regulating hormones), and autonomic nervous system (controlling basic bodily functions like eating and sleeping), experts believe that music therapy has the potential to treat any diagnosis associated with those systems.
Who Can Benefit From Music Therapy?
For children, music therapy is a common adjunct to an Individual Education Program (IEP) and can be used to help children with or without special needs to develop healthy social skills such as empathy, turn taking, following rules, self-expression, compromise, problem solving, and academic skills such as attention, focus, mathematics, telling time, money concepts, reading, vocabulary, and writing.
For adults, music therapy is commonly used in hospice and palliative care (pain and symptom management), hospice (end-of-life care), and geriatrics (specialized health care for seniors).
Common medical diagnoses known to respond to music therapy include, but are not limited to:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Brain injury
- Chronic pain
- Communication disorders
- Developmental delay
- Emotional disorders
- Endocrine disorders
- Hearing impairment
- Immune disorders
- Intellectual disability
- Parkinson's disease
- Premature birth / underweight
- Sleep disorders
- Substance abuse
- Traumatic stress (PTSD)
It seems no matter who you are, music is good for you. A bevy of clinical evidence—in fields such as positive psychology (the study of human functioning and well-being) and psychoneuroimmunology (the study of how emotional states interact with bodily systems and disease)—suggests that from birth to the end of life, music has the potential to keep anyone healthier and happier.