Music has always played a critical role in celebrating cultural traditions, sporting events, holiday celebrations, civil rights protests, and entertainment. Music therapy has been in practice for centuries, but today, is increasingly recognized in the medical community as a treatment for depression, anxiety, and trauma. It is now being administered in hospitals, nursing homes, recovery houses, yoga studios and more.
Bob Marley said it best, “The one good thing about music is when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Like penicillin is a cure for disease, music is medicine for the soul.
What is music therapy? The Mayo Clinic describes it as “an evidence-based treatment that helps with a variety of disorders including cardiac conditions, depression, autism, substance abuse and Alzheimer’s disease. It can help with memory, lower blood pressure, improve coping, reduce stress, improve self-esteem, and more.”1 And, you don’t need a musical background to participate.
There are many ways to administer music therapy, including but not limited to, listening to a curated (passive) playlist, chanting, improvising with instrument, group therapy, and lyric evaluation.
When rhythm and melody work together, they communicate something beautiful about what it means to be human. Music inspires us to understand one another and to feel compassion. I believe that we may not come by peace for mankind with war, guns, government or religion, but can through music. I don’t know if music can save the world, but it can save your soul. Waltz into a gospel church on any given Sunday, close your eyes, listen to the choir sing and you will know exactly what that feels like.
The history of music therapy is fascinating. “In 1945, the U.S. War Department developed a program using music to recondition service members recuperating in Army hospitals. In this program, music was used in several therapeutic settings including recreation, education, occupational therapy, and physical reconditioning. This early use of music as a support of multiple therapies for military populations helped the music therapy profession grow. It developed further with research endorsed by the Army.”2
However, the history of music therapy goes back even further. “Perhaps the earliest account of the healing properties of music appear in the Jewish bible. In it, the story was that David, a skilled musician, could cure King Saul’s depression through music.”3
I have witnessed first-hand the remarkable healing power of music in my own life. As a young girl from a broken home with symptoms of mild depression and anxiety, singing, playing guitar, and writing songs became my coping mechanism for emotional turmoil. That turned into a career as a songwriter that survived 20 years in the music business.
Music continues to be a healing source in my life every day, not only for me, but for my clients and family members. When my father became ill in 2018, he underwent emergency surgery for a ruptured aorta. There were a few days that were touch-and-go while he remained unconscious for endless hours. I instinctively knew to turn to music, so I brought headphones and a music playlist on my next visit to the ICU. The idea was to put one headphone in my ear and one in his so we could listen to our favorite songs together. That was my only option for communication with him at that point. After several minutes, something remarkable happened. His eyes fluttered open; he lifted his heavy hand and pointed to his mouth to say he was thirsty. I handed him a sippy cup and through a straw he was able to drink his first sip of water as he regained consciousness. I felt a flood of emotional gratitude and I was sure it was the music that brought him back to consciousness. We continued to listen to songs that afternoon while he told detailed stories of his life from years ago. It was the music we listened to together, despite his dementia, that brought back his memories.
After he was released from the ICU, we had more music therapy sessions. One crisp, blue-sky afternoon, my sister and I were visiting with him on the back porch of the recovery floor, overlooking the sprawling vineyards of Napa Valley. It was a splendid space created for patients and family to gather and breathe in fresh air to assist in the post-surgery healing process. I played my Martin guitar and sang some of my father’s favorite songs. He listened in his wheelchair, smiling and tapping in time on the metal table. Moments after I finished singing, with a delighted smile and a twinkle in his blue eyes, he said, “I can count this as one of the best days of my life.”
Michele McCord is a certified music therapist, personal trainer/yoga instructor, nutritional consultant and founder of the Michele McCord Method. She can be reached at (310) 923.3237 or [email protected]. For more information, visit www.michelemccordmethod.com.
References: 1) https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/8817-music-therapy; 2) https://romanmusictherapy.com/music-therapy-and-miltary-populations/; 3) https://positivepsychology.com/music-therapy/