Music Therapy and its Myriad of Applications (Part 1)

  • 05/14/2016
  • JamPlay, LLC
The expression "Music therapy" describes the use of any of a number of different techniques utilizing music to achieve therapeutic goals. These goals can range from alleviation of depressive symptoms to improving motor coordination in people suffering from cerebral palsy, or as simply a calming agent to any individual after a particularly stressful day. The applications are seemingly endless and more and more positive outcomes are being discovered all the time.

Music therapy has been speculated to have been around at least since the time of Aristotle. Ancient Greek philosophers surmised that music could heal both the body and the soul and Native American cultures have used singing and chanting as part of their healing rituals for countless millennia. But the most recent and memorable instances have been noted during the First World War. Musicians of many varieties, both amateur and professional were brought into hospitals to perform for the infirm soldiers and were seen to have therapeutic effects upon the injured. Doctors and nurses as well witnessed some of the miraculous effects of music upon the soldiers and although they were aware of the need for a more structured academic environment to train the musicians, they were also patently aware of the power of music to heal. The first degree program for music therapy was born subsequently at Michigan State University in 1944.

Music Therapy can be defined as "an interpersonal process in which the therapist uses music and all of its facets--physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual--to help clients to improve or maintain their health. In some instances, the client's needs are addressed directly through music; in others they are addressed through the relationships that develop between the client and therapist" (Wikipedia This is truly a broad definition and will need to be deconstructed in order for the reader to see and understand music therapy's many diverse applications and forms. Let's take a look at the very first line of the definition.. "an interpersonal process."

Most types of therapy could be considered "interpersonal" in that each describes a process whereby two or more individuals interact on a personal level and that interaction in and of itself becomes therapeutic. This idea is based in part upon the works of Carl Rogers and his philosophy of Humanistic Psychology. Rogers asserted that the one truly integral condition to any therapeutic intervention is the therapist him (or her!) self and their unconditional and genuine acceptance of the client. This open and non-critical view of the client hopefully leads to the client accepting and valuing themselves (Carl Rogers, 1961). Hence, simply the act of interacting in an open and non-judgmental fashion can itself be therapeutic regardless of any techniques or complex interventions that the therapist sees fit to utilize. But let's take a look at the next words in the aforementioned definition "an interpersonal process in which the therapist uses music." Now we've added music into the mix and taken the simple notion of the power of interaction to heal, and married it with the sublime force and intensity of music to produce the brainchild known as music therapy.

The first facet of music therapy listed in the Wikipedia definition is "physical." The word physical can be defined in more than one way hence I feel it's important at this point in my narrative to delineate between the two possible subcategories of music therapy that are often seen in the field:
1. Active-this type of music therapy can come in various forms including writing music and lyrics, playing instruments (as simply as banging on a percussive instrument to all out rocking out), choral singing, chanting, exercising and stretching to music, voice exercises, rhythmic body movements, group composition and musical interaction, dance, or virtually any form of exercise that employs active involvement with a musical backdrop; participational therapy. Active forms have been seen as highly effective in the treatment of neurological disorders, amongst others.

2. Passive-this type of music therapy can also come in various forms but is more in tune with listening types of exercises, relaxation, imagery exercises set to music; passive therapy. Passive forms of music therapy have been found to be effective in enhancing concentration and memory, reducing stress, bringing down blood pressure and helping individuals cope up with the side-effects associated with of heart problems.
As you can see, there are some overlapping characteristics between active and passive therapies in that there must be a concerted effort on behalf of the individual, an active component if you will, to imagery exercises (for example). The two categories are simply meant as general guides to delineate between the two categories of music therapy. Looking back at the concept of physicality as mentioned in the Wikipedia definition, the word "physical" could mean active types of music therapies. But it could also imply the physical essence of music, such as the underlying vibrational qualities of music.

Vibroacoustic therapy (or VA) is a unique branch of music therapy pioneered in the 1980's that has been found to be quite effective at alleviating certain physical and psychological infirmities. The therapy works like this: subjects are instructed to lie on a special bed(known as a "physioacoustic device") that has been equipped with low-frequency bass speakers that pulse music as well as vibration at frequencies between 20 and 70 Hz. Individuals are subsequently able to hear as well as feel the music throughout their bodies. A number of the subjects report the experience as being "warming" and "calming" and the curative and palliative applications are broad. Studies have shown VA to be effective in helping to cure ulcers by increasing blood flow, assisting cerebral palsy patients by calming muscle spasms, reducing the perception of pain in patients suffering from certain types of pain disorders, reducing high blood pressure, as well as a number of other physical and mental infirmities including stress disorders and certain types of pulmonary disorders (Wigram and Skille, 1995). Although one can certainly postulate that the use of vibrations to mitigate physical and mental infirmities is not the same as using actual music, the underlying physical substrate of music is present and may very well be the basis of music's therapeutic properties.

Although the use of Vibroacoustic Therapy might be considered an example of passive therapy, there are other illustrations of physical music therapies that have been found to be quite active and miraculous in terms of healing.

Dance, as an approach to therapy, came to life in the 1940's and was pioneered by a woman by the name of Marian Chace. Chace, a former dancer turned teacher, noticed that some of her students seemed to be paying more attention to the emotions that they were experiencing than the actual moves themselves. She encouraged this and freedom of movement as well which seemed to be beneficial some of her apprentices. Over time Psychiatrists and other mental health workers found that some of their clients were deriving benefits from attending Chace's dance classes. Subsequently, she was invited to play a role in the therapeutic process with patients who had previously been unable to participate in "regular" group activities due to their relative level of mental disturbance. Dance therapy evolved from there as well as the inception of the American Dance Therapy Association which was founded in 1966. Dance therapy has been documented as therapeutic to people suffering from various mental disorders including schizophrenia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Others have benefited from the therapeutic effects of dance as well including those suffering from eating disorders, survivors of physical and sexual abuse, the elderly, sufferers of autism and substance abusers.

Dance therapy is unique in that it allows the individual to express themselves in a non-verbal fashion. Many trauma survivors are incapable or unwilling to communicate their experiences due to the fact that articulating their experiences will in essence cause them to relive the encounters that have contributed to their present state of mind. Dance Therapy allows survivors of rape and incest, as well as traumatized war veterans a means of expression that is less distressing than verbalization by allowing them to express

deep-seated emotions through movement, rather than speech. Ultimately, the use of both active and passive types of Music Therapies can be beneficial to many individuals suffering from an array of mental and physical infirmities. The use of Vibroacoustic Therapy is one example of a passive therapy whereas Dance Therapy is more active and expressive through movement. In the next installment, we'll talk more about the palliative effects of emotion in music. To be continued.

Mark Lincoln M.A.