The Growth of Music Therapy

If you’re a music student, you probably already know that this form of artistic expression has the power to change your mood and offer a different perspective. That reality has helped propel the rise of music therapy, a technique often used for people who are suffering with conditions like trauma, autistic spectrum disorders and chronic pain.

If you’ve ever listened to a favorite song after a bad day and felt noticeably better afterwards, that’s a small but powerful example of how music can help. In the same way people might feel soothed after swimming in therapy pools, music can comfort the body and the soul while easing the mind.

Notable Statistics

According to the American Music Therapy Association, almost one million people received therapeutic services through music at over 21,000 locations in 2010. Those numbers are projected to rise; at the time the data was collected, there were more than twice as many full-time jobs created than were lost in the music therapy field.

Music to Help People of All Ages

The Boston Children’s Hospital is one location in the United States that features music therapists on staff. There, music is used as part of the healing process, even for patients still young enough to be in the neonatal intensive care unit. For older patients, an organization called Music and Memory issues digital music players with personalized playlists to aid in daily activities and memory retention.

Tunes to Match an Emotional State 

In a place like a hospital, music therapists are likely to serve patients who have a wide variety of needs. Often, music might be relied upon to distract people who are scared or in pain. During other occasions, it could be a tool for cheering a patient who is struggling with deep emotional issues.

With that in mind, music therapists commonly employ the ISO principle. Put simply, it involves an interactive approach to music wherein the therapist attempts to mirror a patient’s emotional state through the sounds that are played. Doing it well requires a great deal of attentiveness, but it often enables practitioners to achieve great breakthroughs, particularly with patients who are nonverbal.

 Still Not a Widespread Practice

 Although music therapy is gaining ground – and could be helpful in treating conditions ranging from dementia to seizures to joint inflammation – some people feel it is not widely accepted. One of the reasons why music therapy is not yet used in many hospitals around the country may be that there is not yet a large collection of data confirming its worthiness.

That may change in the near future. Researchers have expressed an interest in using a model called the Rational-Scientific Mediating Model (R-SMM) to test outcomes related to music therapy practices. The model is well known to medical practitioners and insurance companies; if results are favorable, music therapy’s popularity could continue to rise.

While research is still ongoing, the American Cancer Society cites studies showing changes in brain activity were noted both during and immediately after music therapy occurred. This suggests it could have effects that are not only beneficial, but quick-acting. Health practitioners should not overlook using music to complement other interventions.

Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter, blogger, and percussionist, specializing in marimba. He currently lives in PA and with his wife and son. Follow Scott at @SMHuntington

Filed Under: Music in the World