Music is wonderful. It is often referred to as the universal language. We may listen to music for sheer joy, to dance, to change our moods, to enhance fond memories and to exercise. Music therapy, however, is much more.

As an allied health profession, music therapy is defined as the focused and intentional use of music and music-related therapeutic interventions, applied by a professional music therapist, to relieve and assist recovery from a variety of emotional, mental, and physical diseases, illnesses, disorders, or discomforts.

Two common misconceptions abound about music therapy: one must have some musical ability to benefit from the therapy, or that one style of music is more therapeutic than others. Musical talent or training is not necessary for clients, and all types of music can be useful to effect change and reach therapeutic goals of those taking part. Musical preferences, treatment needs, circumstances and goals of the individual or group help determine the types of music a therapist might employ.

Designed to address health and educational goals, music therapy can help manage stress, promote wellness, enhance memory, relieve pain, express feelings, improve interpersonal communication, promote physical rehabilitation and more. It is a creative, flexible and often spontaneous therapy to help people of all ages and abilities including seniors, children, adolescents, and adults.

A holistic and non-invasive treatment, music therapy can relieve anxiety, acute and chronic pain, Alzheimer’s disease, developmental and learning disabilities, substance abuse issues, mental health needs, brain injuries, traumatic stress, aging-related conditions, Parkinson’s disease, anger issues, and physical disabilities. Through music therapy, persons experiencing challenges can make positive changes in mood and emotional modulation, practice problem solving, explore feelings, and resolve interpersonal conflicts – all which can lead to stronger family, friend and community relationships.

Music therapists work in schools to provide services listed on individual education plans for special learners to strengthen areas important in daily life such as sequencing, memory, communication, sensory and physical motor coordination skills. The therapy is also used in hospitals to elevate patients’ mood; it can counteract depression, fear and apprehension and reduce or alleviate pain associated with surgical procedures or in conjunction with anesthesia and pain medication. Music therapy can help induce sleep, relaxation, assist in labor and delivery, and promote movement for physical rehabilitation.

For seniors, the sensory, emotional and mental stimulation of music can help increase or maintain levels of mental clarity and memory, emotional stability, and physical and social functioning which improves overall quality of life.

In all cases, a professional music therapist assesses physical health, emotional well-being, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills through the musical responses of an individual or group. Based on defined needs, strategic music therapy interventions follow. Sessions and progress are documented and evaluated.

Community music groups such as drumming, improvisational music making, simply listening to music, songwriting, and music and imagery can all bring family and friends together, supply vital support for physical exercise and provide opportunities for personal growth. Music is profound. Unleash the power of music.

Jay Anderson is a music therapist and member of the American Music Therapy Association. For more information contact [email protected] or (760) 834.1164.

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