Music as Therapy
“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” Elton John
How does music make you feel? What thoughts does it provoke? What does it make you want to do?
Archaeologists have found musical instruments dating back to 40,000 years ago. Music and it’s therapeutic benefits have been recognised for millennia and there is evidence of music as therapy in many ancient civilisations:
Pre-historic cave paintings show a tribal Shaman chanting and drumming to banish evil spirits.
The Native American medicine man chants to heal and Aboriginal medicine songs are believed to relieve pain.
The Egyptians believed the vibrations generated through chanting had therapeutic effects.
In China, the ancient five-element music therapy is believed to balance yin and yang and recent studies show its beneficial effects on mood and insomnia.
The Indian healing practice of Ayurveda uses music to balance the elements of the body.
In ancient Greece Pythagoras used the harmonies he had discovered to heal the body and soul. Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’, played music to patients with mental health problems, and Plato and Aristotle believed music decreased negative emotions and had a positive effect on wellbeing.
Abu Nsar Al-Farabi, an early Islamic philosopher, described the therapeutic effects of music on the soul and very earliest hospitals in the middle east had music rooms.
Even in the dark ages, when many of the ancient teachings and ideas were abandoned, the therapeutic effects of music were still recognised.
The renaissance saw a resurgence in the use of music as therapy, for pain, depression, mania and even the plague.
During the world wars music was used to help injured soldiers and veterans.
As societies have developed, music has been important to mark occasions, to celebrate, to honour and to entertain. Music is found at births, deaths, birthdays, marriages, parties, balls, festivals and raves. It is in shops, gyms, restaurants, doctors surgeries and hospitals. Many people have music in every room of their house, and take it with them wherever they go.
We use it to soothe children to sleep in the form of a lullaby. Some people like to study to music. Some listen to calm their thoughts and as a meditative focus. For some it may be a companion, to others a refuge. For some music brings joy and a cathartic release. It can allow us to access feelings that we might otherwise repress.
Music can direct our attention away from pain, and set a tone for the rate and rhythm of our breathing which invokes the relaxation response, with a reduction in heart rate and respiratory rate, lower blood pressure, and reduced muscle tension. It can also promote positive thoughts and feelings reducing anxiety and stress levels.
Used as stimulation in premature babies, music can improve feeding. In autistic children music promotes attention. In fact, music therapy can be considered a safe and generally well-accepted intervention in paediatric healthcare to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.
Music is beneficial for people with dementia and to aid recovery after a stroke. A meta-analysis has found evidence to suggest that in people with cancer music may reduce anxiety, fatigue, pain, heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate.
Very recent research has demonstrated high quality evidence that music is a treatment option to improve depression. It is also used to help those with PTSD and those who have been bereaved.
Whatever music means to you consider using it as a wellbeing tool.
Set aside some time and engage with music:
listen to your favourite songs.
Play an instrument.
Watch a music video.
Sing your heart out.
Allow yourself to be transported.
Turn the volume up so there is no room for worries about the future or ruminations from the past.
When thoughts and feelings float into your consciousness gently push them away and focus on the music.
Align your breathing with the beat slow and steady.
Spend as long as you like in your musical bubble!
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 Stegemann T, Geretsegger M, Phan Quoc E, Riedl H, Smetana M. Music Therapy and Other Music-Based Interventions in Pediatric Health Care: An Overview. Medicines (Basel). 2019;6(1):25. Published 2019 Feb 14.  Bradt, Joke; Dileo, Cheryl; Magill, Lucanne; Teague, Aaron (August 15, 2016). "Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (8): CD006911.  Tang Q, Huang Z, Zhou H, Ye P. Effects of music therapy on depression: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS One. 2020;15(11):e0240862. Published 2020 Nov 18. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0240862.