The practice of music therapy, while still relatively new, has shown promising benefits for a wide range of health conditions – from autism to dementia, and mental illness to post traumatic stress disorder, experts say.
While only a few states provide Medicaid coverage for music therapy, and many therapists do not receive insurance reimbursement, the therapy has “proven efficacious in the treatment of a whole host of populations of individuals with needs. Medication is not always the answer, and in many cases becomes the problem,” said board certified music therapist Nancy Lenzen Davis of Connecticut.
Music therapists are trained to assess a patient’s physical and emotional issues and help them through exercises such as learning an instrument, writing songs, discussing lyrics to songs, and singing, according to an article on the Levine Music website. Patients do not need to be musically inclined prior to treatment in order to benefit from it.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, nearly 1 million people received music therapy in 2010. Music therapists provided services in an estimated 21,230 facilities in 2010, the association says. The number of jobs created doubled between 2009 and 2010.
Music therapy is an evidence-based, nonpharmaceutical, noninvasive form of therapy that involves using musical interventions to treat and maintain mental and physical health. It is especially beneficial for people who have tried other methods of therapy without having success, experts say.
“I have worked with thousands of individuals…We look at the needs of the individual, not the disability, and we use music to meet those needs,” said Davis, who found an interest in music therapy after working at a nursing facility and a camp for special needs children in high school.
Autism Spectrum Disorder affects 1 in 68 children, a 30 percent increase from 2013, when the rate was 1 in 88, according to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 30 percent of autistic children are nonverbal, according to the Autism Science Foundation.
Music therapy is used in children affected by autism to focus in on their communicative, cognitive, behavioral, social and emotional issues.
“Music therapy can enable those without verbal language to communicate, participate and express themselves nonverbally. Very often music therapy also assists in the development of verbal communication, speech, and language skills,” according to an article entitled, “Music Therapy as a Treatment Modality for Autism Spectrum Disorders.”
One in four adults in America have a mental illness, but only 40 percent get help for it, says an article in Psychology Today. Music therapy can offer a valuable supplement or alternative to traditional therapeutic practices for ailments including schizophrenia, personality disorders, anxiety disorders and substance abuse, according to the Music Therapy Association of British Columbia. Music therapy also benefits people with physical issues.
Music therapy treatment is also used for adults with brain injuries or spinal cord injuries or other neurological disorders to help improve balance, fine and gross motor skills and gait training, according to Heartbeat Music Therapy. For example, a person with a neurological impairment may work with a therapist to improve balance by playing drums placed in various locations, requiring the patient to reach for the drum.
The elderly benefit from music therapy as it is an aid in improving social skills, motor skills and memory, according to the article, “Music Therapy and Older Adults.”
“As dementia or Alzheimer’s disease progresses, an individual loses his or her ability to speak, though many people are still able to sing favorite songs or hum. Rhythmbased exercises paired with words can enhance speech intelligibility for the stroke patient or person with Parkinson’s disease,” according to the article.
Music therapy also provides emotional help for those losing their memory. For instance, playing a song that someone used to know during his or her youth or when dating will instill positive memories and feelings, and acts a conversation starter in some instances, experts say. Music therapy paired with dancing can help improve a patient’s walking, range of motion, strength and coordination.
Music therapy first gained attraction after World Wars I and II, when doctors noticed the positive effect that local musicians playing in hospitals had on recovering war veterans suffering both physical and emotional damage, according to the American Music Therapy Association. It is still widely used among war veterans suffering from PTSD, which affects about 31 percent of Vietnam War veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. An organization called MusiCorps brings music into the healing and treatment process of wounded soldiers. Through MusiCorps, soldiers are able to learn, play, write, record, and perform music every day, as an essential part of their rehabilitation, according to MusiCorps’s website. Music therapy lifts their spirits and improves their motor skills.
Proponents of music therapy predict that its popularity among patients will continue to grow.
“Music therapy is a highly flexible art form which assists in the treatment of clients with mental illnesses,” says the Music Therapy Association of British Columbia. “The flexible and supportive nature of music therapy allows for a comfortable, nonthreatening, and creative environment for the individual mental health client.”
Veronica Wood is a student at Shelton High School.