Introduction to Music and Healthcare

William Congreve wrote in 1697, “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast.”  Was he expressing the idea that music can heal?  The use of music in healthcare is nothing new.  The belief that music has restorative powers goes back even further than Congreve.  It goes at least as far back as the Ancient Greeks.

They believed music affected the soul.  Plato said almost 2500 years ago, “Music is a moral law.  It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”

Music is universal and despite it being used throughout the ages to soothe the soul, it’s onbedside-harply fairly recently that it became accepted within modern medical circles.  It gained accepted recognition in 1944 when Michigan State University offered the first accredited music therapy program.  Today there are more than 70 colleges and universities offering programs in music therapy and approximately 5000 music therapists.

Hospitals use music to aid patients in many ways, including pain management, to elevate patient’s moods, and to encourage movement in physical therapy.

As of 1994, music therapy services have been identified as reimbursable under Medicare.

But what about music promotes healing?  How does it work?

Every known culture has music.  Music touches us, affecting us physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Has a song ever come on the radio and you find your feet tapping?  Upbeat songs make us feel good.  Our body’s physical responses to music are observable and measurable.  Music can affect your pulse rate, blood pressure, respiration, temperature, and even your brain waves.

There are four types of brain waves; beta, alpha, theta, and delta.  Beta waves occur when we are alert and active.  Alpha waves occur when we are relaxed.  Theta waves occur when we are meditating or drowsy and falling asleep.  Finally, delta waves occur when we are in deep sleep.  Music can affect these brain waves.  Calm, relaxing music can induce theta or delta waves, whereas loud, fast music will put the brain into an alpha state.

Everyone has heard of “runner’s high”, it’s what happens at a certain point during physical exertion when the body starts to release endorphins, a group of peptide hormones that increase the body’s threshold of pain and can affect mood.

Many activities besides running can cause the release of endorphins, for example, eating spicy food, time spent in the sun, intense pleasure such as sex, strong emotions like laughing or crying, and listening to music.

Studies have shown that listening to half an hour of classical or instrumental music has the same effect as taking a Valium.

Many have heard of the exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims surrounding the so-called “Mozart Effect”, that listening to classical music, for example, will make you smarter or will turn your unborn infant into a genius.  Despite these fallacies, however, what the actual study showed was just as amazing without the hyperbole that has since been attached to it.

In 1993, at the University of California, Irvine, Gordon Shaw and Frances Rauscher conducted a study of 36 college undergraduates.  They listened to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata, then immediately took a Stanford-Binet IQ test to measure their spatial-temporal reasoning.  The results showed an improvement in spatial IQ of eight to nine points, but the effect only lasted for 10-15 minutes.

Despite the fact that the “Mozart Effect” only improved spatial-temporal reasoning and that the effect was temporary, the study still showed the kind of power music has upon the mind.  Other studies have shown that students who study music in high school have higher grade point averages and physically develop faster than those who don’t.

Music has amazing powers in its ability to affect our body and mind and is becoming an effective healing tool.  As author Berthold Auerbach said, “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”.

Questions:  Do you feel music has the power to heal?  Have you or a loved one experienced music’s healing power first hand?

About the Author:

Ed Pahule is a Staff Writer with the Clear Medical Solutions Communication Team.  His work is regularly shared on the Clear Medical Agency newsletter and the blog.


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