WHY MUSIC THERAPY WORKS?
Updated: Jun 1
Before I explain why music therapy works, a little reminder of what music therapy is.
Music therapy is a clinical intervention, where music is used as a tool, to bond with a client in order to reach a therapeutic goal.
Music, when used properly, can be a very powerful therapeutic tool. This is not only because it is fun, motivating and relaxing but because music has an intense impact on our bodies and our brains.
So… why exactly does music therapy work?
- Music has a structure, it is organised and our brains love it!
Music therapy helps autistic children to recover the structure they have lost due to autism. Music also helps to increase attention and singing helps to increase communication ( many autistic children are non-verbal ).
Music is also powerful for people with Parkinson’s Disease. People living with Parkinson's disease typically experience tremors in the limbs and face, body stiffness, and difficulty moving and that often contributes to depression and anxiety. Rhythm affects movement, with improvements seen in step length and timing, coordination, balance and body posture. Due to the fact, music has such a strong effect on our emotions, it works well as a tool, to express and to uplift feelings.
Music is organised in mathematical ratios and that is why our brains like it!
- Music gets into the deepest layers of our memory.
How many times have you listen to songs on the radio, whilst driving, when a certain song pops into your memory and takes you back to a specific time in your life or reminds you about someone? Music can stimulate our memory in an amazing way, that is why music therapy works so well with Dementia patients. There are countless case studies showing music therapists working with older people to stimulate past events to reawaken their memories.
- We all have physiologic responses to music
Music can slow down or make our heartbeat go faster. We can choose to do house spring cleaning listening to happy, upbeat music, as this can motivate us. However, when relaxing, we choose slow and calm music.
Many of us will have experienced a physical reaction when listening to music... like chills, racing heart, tears or relaxation.
Music can also lead to a decreased production of stress-inducing cortisol ( a steroid hormone ) and increased production of cells, that make your immune system more effective!
- Our body naturally responds to rhythm
Our motor systems naturally respond or match to a rhythmic beat.
When a piece of music hits our central nervous system via the auditory nerve, most of the input goes to our brain for processing however some of it goes straight into motor nerves in our spinal cord, allowing our muscles to move to the rhythm without us having to think about it. This is the reason why we often walk to a beat or tap our foot during a music concert. A person who has had a stroke can re-learn how to walk and develop strength in their upper body with the support of music therapist and rhythmic beat music.
- Music is a core function of our brain
Our brain can respond to and process music from birth. Babies can recognise music and rhythmic patterns; mothers across the whole world use lullabies to calm babies. Some scientists say that we all are born with perfect pitch ( absolute pitch ), but because we do not expose ourselves to music enough during the early years, we lose it.
- Our brains are wired to respond to music, even though music is not essential for our survival.
As a music therapist, I really hope that one day music will be used more and more to help people. Music is so natural to us, however still underuse.
I join groups on Facebook such as Autism or Parkinson’s Disease. I read about people’s concerns and struggles in everyday life with this challenging illnesses but music is very rarely mentioned. Such a powerful tool is often neglected.
Why? I don’t know, but I am full of hope that perhaps one day…