When people think of healing, they often think of visiting a doctor and taking a prescribed medication. But healing doesn’t always come from a routine appointment at the doctor — it can be found in many forms, including music.
Everyone can relate to feeling blue until you hear a song that turns your whole day around. Music has a unique power to change how you feel, which is why it’s becoming an increasingly popular source of healing. This often comes in the form of music therapy. So, what is music therapy and how do we know it works?
Music therapy explained
Music therapy is the clinical, evidence-based practice of using music interventions for a therapeutic goal with a board-certified music therapist. It can be used to improve the well-being of anyone experiencing emotional, cognitive or social distress. It is often used with people experiencing memory loss, an illness or a disability. Music therapists work in hospitals, clinics, schools, nursing homes and private practices.
Music therapy grew in popularity over the past few decades, but its roots can be traced back to World War II. Over 2.5 million different instruments were donated to American troops during the war because the army found that music was a successful way to boost morale for its troops.
After the war ended, the Department of Veteran Affairs recognized the need for music as a therapeutic tool to treat veterans. In 1944, Michigan State established the first music therapy curriculum. At that time it was unclear if music had a scientifically proven healing ability, but 75 years later, scientists generally agree that music therapy is a valuable form of healing.
Does music therapy work?
Music therapy has a positive effect on individuals experiencing a wide range of challenges. Henri Harps, music programming coordinator at Chicago Methodist Senior Services (CMSS), has carefully studied the benefits of music. They include easing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, improving sleep and mood, treating post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans, regulating blood pressure and more. Harps says some of the most influential research on music therapy has been settled since the 1990s.
“The challenge is no longer proving it on a scientific basis,” Harps said. “It’s bringing these conclusions to life by dedicating resources to create robust person-centered programming.
CMSS is creating individual-centered programs with their ground-breaking Sounds of Healing initiative which integrates therapeutic music into seniors’ care plans.
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