Today’s article is written by Daniel Faris.  Daniel Faris is a freelance writer and a graduate of Susquehanna University’s Writers Institute. When he’s not blogging here, you can join him over at New Music Friday for conversations about progressive music.

If you’ve ever had a bad day and felt better after listening to a favorite song, you’ve already experienced firsthand the therapeutic power of music. It’s something we’ve all experience at one time or another, but what’s the science behind this phenomenon?

Music therapy is still in the early days in terms of becoming an officially recognized science, but it’s definitely gaining ground. Read on for a brief look at what music therapy is, as well as some of the surprising ways it’s helping people live and feel better.

What is Music Therapy?

This type of therapy involves listening to, analyzing, or making music. Perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t require the participant to have a formal background in music, or any special training prior to participation. It has been used successfully to target a patient’s physical, emotional, and cognitive needs. Improvisation may be relied upon as well, especially while a person sings a song or drums a particular rhythm on an instrument.

Sometimes, a practitioner will urge a recipient of music therapy to do something while listening to a song, such as draw a picture, or engage in another form of personal expression. As you might expect, music therapy has enough versatility to be highly personalized for a patient, which could be one of the many reasons why it continues to grow in popularity.

Music Therapy is Not a New Practice

You may be under the impression that the act of using music for therapeutic purposes is a relatively new idea, but that’s actually not true at all. In fact, it’s among the oldest known forms of therapy. As early as 400 B.C., Hippocrates used the power of music to help mental patients feel calmer. Aristotle, another famous figure in ancient Greece, also spoke favorably of music, citing its ability to be a “force which purifies emotions.”

However, music therapy in its current form gained ground after World War II, when musicians from the United Kingdom traveled to hospitals and performed for soldiers who were recovering from wartime injuries.

It Can Help People of All Ages and Backgrounds

Clearly, one of the greatest benefits of music therapy is that it works well for people regardless of how old they are or what kind of symptoms they are suffering from. It has been successfully used when treating individuals with disorders like autism or severe anxiety, both of which may have interfered with their ability to express themselves fully, because of either a cognitive or emotional impairment.

There is also evidence suggesting that a person is never too old to be assisted through the therapeutic power of music. Specifically, it has been used with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Data has shown how the seemingly simple act of allowing a person to listen to his or her favorite songs, or tracks that otherwise have some sort of significance, could be enough to stimulate an individual to recall things that previously seemed permanently forgotten.

Board Certification for Music Therapy

If you’re interested in pursuing music therapy as a career, there are more than 5,000 people in the United States who have already made that decision and received board certification in the field. Now-famous congresswoman Gabby Giffords was reportedly treated with music therapy while recovering from her brain injury, and that information has played a role in helping the practice earn more prominence.

Because of the increasing attention being paid to the practice of music therapy, it’s important to check a person’s credentials – whether you are seeking the help of a music therapist or thinking about receiving training to become one yourself. One of the ways to do that is to use the online directory of the American Music Therapy Association. Despite the name of that resource, it’s actually international in its reach, making it potentially helpful no matter where you live.

What’s the Outlook for Music Therapy?

As mentioned earlier, music therapy in its modern form is still a relatively new way to help people. However, its merits are frequently examined in academic studies. As favorable results come in, hospitals around the world – like 12 Keys Rehab – are beginning to consider music therapy programs as viable courses of treatment.

Some of the programs already put into practice have allowed hospital inpatients to feel soothed and cheered with the help of traveling musicians who bring live music to the bedsides of people who otherwise may not be able to enjoy it. It’s not unlike those wounded soldiers all those decades ago.

Although this is just a brief outline of how music therapy has impacted the world of medicine, and continues to influence “traditional” healthcare, hopefully it has offered enough insight to feed your curiosity about a practice that is steadily growing in scope and ambition.


Daniel Faris


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