Music therapy is defined as the use of music and musical elements by a qualified music therapist with a client or a group in a process designed to facilitate and promote communication, relationships, and other objectives in order to meet physical, emotional, mental, social, and cognitive needs (Wigram, Pederson and Bonde 30). The contemporary music therapy started developing during the World War I and World War II when music was used for treating wounded soldiers and veterans and relieving them of emotional tension and pain (Cooper and Yamaguchi 253). The first academic program for music specialists was established in 1944 at Michigan State University. Later came more universities representing their own degree and training programs for future music therapists. The National Association for Music Therapy was founded in 1950.  NAMT developed standards for training programs, created a registry, and published research and clinical journals on the subject (“History of Music Therapy.”).

To become a credentialed music therapist today, one must be certified by the Certification Board for Music Therapists that was founded in 1983 and since then has ensured holding to high standards of the specialists of this profession.

There are many associations worldwide which deal with professional music therapists, enlighten people on the aims of music therapy, and help them to find a skilled therapist for treatment. The most well-known of these associations is the American Music Therapy Association.  AMTA has a comprehensive program for training future music professionals and is recognized as an authoritative credential in many states, which means that the music therapy in the U.S. has become a legal way of treatment (“Therapeutic Music Services”).

The effects of music therapy have been studied by researchers from all over the world for decades now. These studies focus on the influence of music therapy on pregnant women, children, and adolescents with behavioral disorders, autistic children and adults, cancer patients, elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and many others. The results of these studies amazed the professionals adhering to the traditional medicine, as music therapy provided by a trained specialist had only positive effects on the subjects. Music can relieve stress, alleviate pain, reduce tension in muscles, stabilize heart rate and blood pressure, and enhance memory. These and some other positive effects allow the music therapy to be in great demand today in assisting or replacing the traditional way of treatment in medicine.

Music therapy sessions can be provided individually or in groups, depending on the goals of treatment. Before the beginning of music therapy sessions, therapists assess clients as any other practitioners, in order to define the condition of a patient and aims needed to be achieved during the treatment course. The peculiar effect of the music on the brain, activation of certain zones of the brain, and stimulation of the immune system, serves as guidance for a good professional in choosing the type of music and methods to be applied. Music used in music therapy is chosen according to the client’s needs. Soothing or vivid music, a certain rhythm produces different effects on a person, and it is taken into account by the specialist in advance. Music therapy can be active or receptive, depending on the way it is organized: music therapist can play some musical instrument himself, improvising, involving a client in playing or singing, as well as using records with purposefully selected tunes for listening.

Music therapy is often used as a means of treatment, but healthy people can also feel the positive effect of music.

Effects of music therapy from birth to death

Music therapy during pregnancy can have positive effects both on a mother-to-be and her future child. Because of hormone reorganization, pregnant women can encounter certain uncomfortable moments such as stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Stress during pregnancy can lead to a lot of troubles not only for a woman but for a fetus. Although the long-term stress influence on the organism of a pregnant woman is not acknowledged, some studies show that stress can lead to heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even ADHD for a child. When cortisol, the stress hormone, exposes a fetus for a long period, it affects the future child negatively. Placenta blocks stress hormones during pregnancy, yet its healing effect fades gradually from the second to the third trimester, leaving the negative effect of the stress to grow accordingly.

Studies have shown that music therapy influence on a mother-to-be is highly positive. It relieves stress, anxiety and helps her to relax. In addition, studies investigating the influence of music on a fetus have proved that the fetus produces responses to music, which stimulates its heart and makes the fetus move inside. Music therapy is acknowledged to be useful not only during the gestation period but during labor and delivery. Numerous researches in this sphere have shown that regular prenatal music therapy in the third trimester can facilitate labors and delivery, relieving pain, helping mothers to manage stress, and controlling the rhythm of breath. Mothers-to-be should be instructed by music therapists in advance on how to focus on music therapy in order to get the right effect from it. Prenatal music therapy, especially from the moment when the fetus’ auditory system and skills become fully functional (this usually happens on the 24-26 week of gestation), is closely connected with the influence of music on newborns. It is well-known that a newborn child recognizes well his mother’s voice and the voices he regularly heard during his stay in the mother’s womb. G. Federico’s studies have shown that music contributes to the reduction of perinatal stress, giving the newborn the possibility of being connected through his auditory system with a sound atmosphere that he already knows (Federico 7).

Music helps to manage children’s behavior. If they have any problems with going to bed and sleep, via music therapy they become relaxed and fall asleep quicker. Music is a great teacher. Understanding a child’s needs at a particular moment helps parents to choose music, soothing or vivid and dynamic, in order to prepare the child for certain activities. Sounds of music help children to stay focused on what they are doing without being distracted. For children, music lessons can become a way of self-expression as well as a way of gaining confidence. This is because music can evoke a range of emotions. Thus, by listening to music and participating in musical processes the child forgets about his fears,  unbends, and develops creative skills. Music therapy can also stabilize and improve communication skills between peers.

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Positive effects of music therapy can be observed when dealing with adolescents. Skilled music therapist like a good psychologist knows how to help an adolescent to cope with his or her problems, assisting with the release of emotions of a teenager and relieving stress. However, in spite of speaking with a teen directly, which can cause certain difficulties as troubled adolescents can have problems with communication, the therapist uses music that establishes trust and a safe environment. Music therapy with adolescents can include lyrics writing, composing music, and using standard music therapy approaches depending on a situation.

Widely used for dealing with different kinds of disorders and ailments that children may have, music therapy is considered to be safe for immature organisms unlike some medication courses of treatment. Speaking of hospitalization cases, music therapy can help children to get used to the hospital environment and to cope with anxiety. Autism and ADHD disorder are the most controversial ailments to be subjected to medical treatment. The worldwide studies demonstrate the effectiveness of music therapy as an alternative method to traditional medication.

Music therapy is effective in treating autistic children, as well as children with developmental and communication disabilities. By involving children in playing instruments, singing, and dancing, music lessons develop their communication skills and help them to overcome the fear of entering the social environment. Via music, children begin to talk to each other, thereby their language is stimulated. Music makes them more responsive and motivated, stimulates and enhances awareness of their bodies (Wigram, Pederson and Bonde 170).

Treating ADHD children with music is a good alternative to the medication treatment course, as there is no risk of the negative effects of drug abuse. Music therapy can bring only positive effects to children, making them less irritable and hyper, more attentive and focused, and calming them down. As a result, general behavioral qualities of the ADHD children can be improved.

Not only are the children found to benefit from exposure to the healing effects of music and music therapy, but it has also been established that adults do not disregard the opportunities of alternative medicine. As far as music therapy is approved to be used in hospitals, hospices, treatment centers, and other health facilities, music therapists provide their services to the diseased people there.

The effect of the music therapy on terminally ill during a single music session was shown in the research by R. E. Krout. The effect surpassed all the expectations: the positive impact of music was it significantly increased pain control, physical comfort, and relaxation (Krout 387).

The other research into the effects of music therapy on people diagnosed with terminal cancer showed that the quality of life was significantly higher for the subjects receiving music therapy sessions. However, the results of this research also indicated no difference between the time of the death of those who were subjected to music therapy and those who were not. (Hilliard 130). It only confirms the fact that unfortunately, music cannot stop death yet. Music can ease and cure certain diseases, but it is not omnipotent. For cancer patients in hospitals, music therapy serves as a means to lessen pain, reduce anxiety, increase vigor, and improve mood. Sometimes music can help cancer patients overcome the barrier to communication with their relatives.

Music therapy is often applied in treating dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Numerous studies have proved the positive effects of music therapy on elderly patients with these disorders. Researchers indicate the strong behavioral improvement in patients towards the surrounding social environment. A number of music therapy sessions on the long-term basis have shown the decrease of agitation and aggressiveness in patients, making them calmer and helping control emotions. Music also helps patients cope with depression and can help them recall past memories. Some of the patients can even learn new songs as it is easier for them to recollect newly learned music than spoken words. The response to the music in dementia patients appears to be great. However, the majority of studies in this sphere were done within small groups of elderly people, thus the results cannot be generalized. The effect of the music therapy on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients proves to be individual, depending on the initial state and stage of the patient’s disease, as well as on the quality and length of the treatment course, meaning the number and frequency of music sessions.

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Touching upon a question of passing away people, there is a music therapy organization serving their purposes.  MTAI (Music-Thanatology Association International) provides services on music therapy at the bedside in homes, hospitals, and hospice centers. The music-thanatologist uses harp and voice in order to serve the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the dying and their loved ones (“Therapeutic Music Services”). In this case, the pleasant sounds of the harp help release a person and his or her relatives from pain and worries of loss and suppress negative emotions.
The effects of the music therapy discussed in this essay are a few examples of the positive influence of the music treatment provided by a skilled specialist to a client. Having a rich history, music and music therapy originates from ancient times, becoming an alternative method of treatment highly appreciated by modern doctors and patients worldwide. Many state universities have degrees and training programs in music therapy, thus increasing the number of professionals in this sphere.  The methods and music chosen by a therapist for treatment depend on the preliminary observation of a client, just as in traditional medicine.

The essay shows how music accompanies people from birth to death. This is a natural current of life, where music plays an important role. The indicated examples are the minority of the conditions music therapy is suggested for as a major treatment or as a preventive measure.

Numerous studies on the subject have provided information on the efficiency of music therapy, thus presenting a functional way of treatment that can assist or replace the traditional medicine depending on a particular case. Music aims during the music therapy can be the following: to relieve stress and depression, ease insomnia, lessen muscle tension, stabilize breath, heart rate, and blood pressure, enhance memory by stimulating brain waves, support well-being, motivate, help to express feelings, and communicate.

It is acknowledged that music is an instrument of healing that helps both healthy and the diseased, children and adults. However, children are considered to be more perceptive to music and are easier exposed to the treatment.

Music therapy is becoming legal in more and more states in the U.S. No wonder there has been such a growing interest in this subject recently, which continues to grow. The future of music therapy can be predicted as rather successful.

Works Cited:

  1. Cooper, Edwin Lowell, and Nobuo Yamaguchi, eds. Complementary and alternative approaches to biomedicine. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2004. Print.
  2. Federico, Gabriel. X World Congress of Music Therapy. Oxford, England: 2002. Print.
  3. Hilliard, Russell E. “The Effects of Music Therapy on the Quality and Length of Life of People.” Journal of Music Therapy 40.2 (2003): 113-36. Print.
  4. “History of Music Therapy.” American Music Therapy Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
  5. Krout, Robert E. “The Effects of Single-Session Music Therapy Interventions on the Observed and Self-Reported Levels of Pain Control, Physical Comfort, and Relaxation of Hospice Patients.” The American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care 18.6 (2001): 383-90. Print.
  6. “Therapeutic Music Services At-A-Glance. An Overview of Music Therapy, Therapeutic Bedside Music Programs, and Music Thanatology.” American Music Therapy Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
  7. Wigram, Tony, Inge Nygaard Pedersen, and Lars Ole Bonde. A Comprehensive Guide to Music Therapy: Theory, Clinical Practice, Research and Training. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2004. Print.


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