Music Therapy Heals More Than Just The Heart

Shantha Kalia

Music therapy is one of the expressive therapies used in Alternative Medicine.  Other popular forms of expressive therapy are art therapy, dance and movement therapy, drama therapy, and poetry therapy.

Ancient Greek philosophers claimed that music could heal the body and soul.  Singing and rhythmic chanting has been a part of healing rituals for thousands of years by Native Americans.  During World War II, U.S. Veterans Administration hospitals started using music therapy to treat soldiers recovering from shell shock.  Soon after, in 1944, Michigan State University started the first music therapy degree program.

Music therapy is evidence-based use of music interventions to treat people who are dealing with mental, physical, and/or emotional problems.  A certified music therapist uses music to help clients to improve or maintain their health.  Music therapists use different experiences to achieve treatment goals by using music as an art intertwined with scientific facts.

Hospitals, cancer centers, schools, alcohol and drug recovery programs, psychiatric hospitals, and correctional facilities increasingly employ music therapists.  Recent evidence shows premature babies and infants in intensive care units relax and sleep better with music playing in the background.  Music therapy along with standard medical care is effective in treating depression, according to researchers in Finland.  The researchers noted that music is meaningful and engages people in ways that we cannot do otherwise.  Music brings about qualities allowing people to express themselves without speaking, even when words are difficult to come by.

Music integrates mind and body, affecting our emotional responses, which in turn modifies the neurological pathways in the brain, facilitating behavioral changes.

Using Music As A Treatment Strategy

Music therapy is widely used in treatment of cancer.  Music therapy when used with standard medical treatment can reduce pain and provide relief from chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.  Music interventions have proved effective in reducing anxiety by employing parameters such as constant tempo of music, stable rhythms, and smooth melody.  When music is used in a preoperative setting to reduce anxiety and provide relaxation, it is an “audioanalgesia.”  Most preoperative studies focus on passive music listening.

When music is used to treat symptoms of anxiety, or reduce pain, it distracts attention from a negative indicator and shifts the focus to a calming stimulus.  The brain circuitry is activated with music and changes neural pathways, which are thought to promote relaxation and produce physiological changes.

Music Medicine Versus Music Therapy

Music medicine is passive listening to prerecorded music that is provided by the healthcare provider.  The patient may or may not select the music.  Music therapy involves evidence-based use of interventions to accomplish goals with the help of a certified music therapist.  The important difference is the level of application by music therapists who are specially trained to treat medical conditions using music.

Sources for this article include:

  • Gooding, L et al.  Using Music Interventions in Perioperative Care.  South Med J. 2012; 105(9):486-490.
About the Author: Shantha Kalia is a health care professional at a New York City hospital. She completed her masters in Public Health, and has worked in various capacities in health care for over 15 years. She is a freelancer and contributes articles to various websites on various medical and health-related topics. Her interests include health and wellness, diet and nutrition, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. To read more articles by Shantha, please visit
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