What Is Music Therapy?

Ageneral introduction to the increasingly popular technique of what music therapy is.

The benefits of music therapy in relieving stress and improving relaxation are widely accepted, as is its value in the well being of children and the elderly. Some studies have shown that music can affect the rhythm of breathing and heartbeat, and can alter blood pressure.

As we enter the 21st century, we are all aware of the pressures of daily life - home, family and work combine to increase levels of tension, and finding your own personal cure for stress becomes more important. Finding time to relax, however, can be hard when you're always on the go; people today are spending more time working and less time on leisure activities, which directly impacts on their levels of stress. Music is a great antidote to the demands of life today - whether you play a favorite CD, attend concert recitals or play an instrument - the therapeutic benefits of music can calm even the most troubled mind.

Music must be as old as language: speech is basically musical, and rhythm and phrasing are even more fundamental to language than the meanings of the words themselves. The use of music as therapy therefore probably predates the appearance of any written records. It is known that the ancient Egyptians and Greeks thought highly of the curative powers of music - in Greece, Apollo was the god of both music and healing. It was also in Greece that Pythagoras formulated the rules of harmonics and used them as the basis for a school of philosophy and medicine. Similarly, musical cultures evolved in ancient civilizations such as those in China, Persia and India as well as Europe. It has long been used for self-expression and as a healing remedy, and there are numerous accounts of the healing properties of music in the Bible.

What is music therapy?

At the simplest level, music has the power to soothe and calm, and to enhance or alter moods. Media advertisers, shopping outlets, film moguls and many others exploit the power of music for one purpose or another. Hospitals are increasingly using music as a means of creating a peaceful atmosphere in which treatment can be carried out more easily and with greater success. In addition, many practitioners of music therapy use passive music - simply listening to music - in treating patients who suffer from emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression, autism and other developmental disorders. Such therapists believe that music promotes healing through the vibrational energy of different tones or pitches of sound, and that exposure to music can help to bring the tissues and organs of the body into harmony. Active music therapy, on the other hand, is mainly used in the treatment of those who have difficulty in expressing themselves and relating to other people. It may also be valuable in the care of those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. It can help the elderly and disabled to maintain healthy mind and body coordination.

Consulting a Therapist

Therapy usually involves group sessions at least once a week, each session lasting an hour or longer. You will be encouraged to participate in the group in playing musical instruments or singing. It is not important if you are not musical - rhythmic shaking of a tambourine or beating a drum can be just as satisfying as playing a flute or viola. Music sessions - under the leadership of the therapist - are geared to the needs of the individual patient.

Self-help

Music therapy is ideal for self-help. You can enrich your life if you can spare the time to learn a musical instrument; or listen to special therapeutic tapes or choose music from your own collection that accurately reflects your current mood or the mood you want to experience. For instance, if you want to feel confident, listen to brisk, cheerful music; if you want to feel romantic, choose something soft and melodic. However, this technique is not just to alter your mood, but also an avenue to explore and examine a specific, usually adverse, frame of mind. For instance, if you are feeling irate, it may be therapeutic to play "angry" music, which will allow you to look for the roots of your antagonism and exorcize them. You may also want to try a technique known as "toning", which involves singing at the most primitive level, using grunts and groans, and cries and sighs, as a way of venting and releasing pent-up emotions.

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