Music Therapy Can Benefit Many

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Music therapy is an intervention designed to improve health status that includes musical interaction between the therapist and a patient within a structured theoretical framework and in which outcomes were born of music, talk inspired by music or therapeutic relationships.

The value of music therapy has been a topic among healthcare professionals in several recent studies that show it benefits many different types of people, from children, the aging, and those who are ill.

This week, Queen’s University of Belfast announced that it will be conducting a trial over the next three years to investigate how music therapy can help children and young people that have severe mental health problems. Researchers will work with the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust (NIMTT), a charity that provides music therapy to people with disabilities and those with profound communication difficulties. The program will be called Music in Mind, and it is expected that the therapy will improve communication, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

Music therapy has been an integral part of many programs for children with disabilities, including autism. The Washington Post recently highlighted a story about Janna Simpson, a West Virginia teen with autism who receives formal music therapy at her middle school. Her mother, Judy, is a former music therapist and director of government relations at the American Music Therapy Association, based in Silver Spring MD. The group presented a session titled “The Autism Agenda” at a recent conference to promote education on music therapy for children with autism. Music gives structure and a predictable rhythm to verbal directions, helping children with communication disorders learn valuable life skills. Music also provides a creative outlet to help regulate behavior and relieve anxiety and frustration.

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Music therapy has also been shown to help patients in Hospice care. University of Alabama senior Sarah Pitts brought music therapy to a Hospice in West Alabama, and found that it reduced pain and anxiety among the residents. It also provides a comforting atmosphere for caregivers and family members while a patient is unresponsive or dying. During her time there, two patients actually became well enough to go home from the hospice.

Blood flow and respiratory rates can sync with music and is being studied as a therapeutic tool for blood pressure control and rehabilitation. Italian researchers published a study in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association that faster tempos result in increased breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. But when the music slowed, heart rate declined and blood pressure dropped. Decrescendos in music, a gradual volume decrease, can induce relaxation, while crescendos (increasing volume) lead to narrowing of the blood vessels under the skin, increased blood pressure and increased respiration.

Music can also reduce depression and stress. In researched published in the 2008 issue of Journal of Clinical Nursing, scientists found that music therapy reduced psychological stress and anxiety in pregnant women in just two weeks. A group of Cochrane Researchers found in a review of five studies on music therapy that four of those studies showed that it helped ease symptoms of depression, although they warn that the technique should not be used as a stand-alone treatment.

Music has also been shown to improve cognitive skills, in a recent review by the Faculty of 1000 Biology and Medicine, an online publication in which leading researchers highlight advances in their field. The group notes that regularly playing a musical instrument structurally and functionally changes the anatomy and function of the brain that use used in language, memory, and mood.

Music therapy is taught in a four-year program followed by a six-month internship. It combines work in music, psychology, and other disciplines.

Sources Include: The Washington Post, Queen's University Belfast, University of Alabama, Heart.org, and Cochrane Database of Systematicc Reviews

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