Picture of gramophone music therapy

Music Therapy

Music is a huge part of most people’s lives. Many of us can recall where we first heard some of our favorite music, the concerts we’ve been to, and the people we’ve shared the music we love with. In fact, due to its effects on our well-being and memory, music therapy is used in lots of incredible ways.

Let’s look at the use of music therapies out there and their value.

What is music therapy?

Music therapy itself is a broad field. It represents one of the many forms of available psychological interventions.

Here at MDPI, we’re interested in research related to music therapy. In fact, our journal Brain sciences is launching a Special Issue titled “Music-Based Therapies and Interventions in Clinical Settings across the Life Span—New Methodological, Clinical and Technological Avenues”. If you think your research would be suitable for this Special Issue, you can submit your manuscript here.

When was music therapy invented?

It can be difficult to articulate how music affects the body. This makes sense given the evidence that suggests it predates language as a form of communication. Nonetheless, or maybe because of this, we’ve been interested in explaining music’s effects for centuries.

One of the most well-known analyses of the impact of music can be found in the Republic. Here, Plato attempts to explain the effect of music on the body through investigations of ‘the soul’ and reflections on moral values.

Evidence of music as a form of therapy in other regions of the world, such as Egypt, China, and India, also exists. It’s thought that music therapy began in these areas first.

Over the last century, research into how music affects the brain has become increasingly popular.  In the last few decades in particular, a new scientific field has been established due to the increased interest in this topic, known as neuromusicology. Neuromusicology looks at the way music affects behaviors and the way we feel, making it a very interesting discipline.

Applications of music therapy

If you’ve ever felt that listening to music lifts you out of a low mood, you’ll be glad to know there’s science to explain these changes.

An article in Brain Sciences explains that music can help to reduce stress, which might alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The authors analyzed cortisol levels from saliva samples, and studied emotion ratings provided by the participants. They found that listening to music in familiar and unfamiliar environments can help people to manage overwhelming emotions.

Music has been found to be useful in the management of a wide variety of other conditions too. For example, as a supplementary or alternative treatment for cancers. The use of music therapy for breast cancer patients is detailed in a study in the journal Cancers. It was found to provide relief for the stresses that are part of managing terminal illnesses.

Interestingly, in a different study published in Applied Sciences, music therapy was found to be helpful for individuals with dementia. Biographical music therapy has been shown to “mitigate the cognitive decline of individuals with dementia”. This is especially important due to the rising proportion of older adults, which is set to increase to 22% by 2050 according to the WHO. Alongside an ageing population, the global prevalence of dementia was estimated at 55 million in 2021.

As our population continues to age, terminal illnesses and age-related diseases will increase in number. This means that new forms of palliative care are in urgent demand.

Song of Life therapy in palliative care

One of the newest forms of music therapy is Song of Life (SoL) therapy. This is a biographical form of music therapy used in palliative care. SoL aims to help people diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses by providing emotional care. It usually consists of three sessions with a therapist using music. In these sessions, practitioners providing care encourage conversation while playing meaningful music for patients.

Coping with approaching the end of life, worries about the people left behind, and the desire for health to improve are just some of the issues contributing to worsening mental health among terminally ill patients. Music therapy is important as a way to engage emotionally with patients and allow them to feel that despite the burden of terminal illness, they are still able to validate their own lives and all the emotions felt throughout it.

What is the aim of music therapy?

In a study published in Processes, the authors note

“psychological distress and mental worry are widespread in the end stages of life-threatening illnesses.”

They explain that the aim of palliative care is to care for patients with terminal illnesses at the physical, psychological, and spiritual levels. Music therapy can be useful for treating dementia because it acts as a cue for memory recall by helping people to engage with memories that have defined their lives. The fact that these innovative therapies are being developed means that patients with terminal illnesses and their families have more options to explore. The greater availability of therapies ensures patients have a choice in how to cope with the psychological burden of disease.

Studies on the topic of music therapy emphasize the importance of holistic healthcare management, as well. Music therapy is a great way to supplement other clinical therapies. This is because it provides more avenues for patients to cope with the psychological effects of terminal illness. Reducing stress can also have positive physical impacts. Because of these reasons, music therapy is a helpful aid for patients who are already being treated for life-threatening illnesses.

Assessing the impact of music therapy

According to the authors of the article, titled “Song of Life: A Comprehensive Evaluation of Biographical Music Therapy in Palliative Care by the EMW-TOPSIS Method”, ways to measure the effects of music therapy are urgently needed. They note that approximately 4,820,000 and 2,370,000 new cancer cases will be diagnosed in China and the USA, respectively, in 2022. These are, of course, troubling figures. They point to the future need for therapies such as SoL, which will help to ease the stress felt by people facing life-threatening illnesses.

The authors go on to present a new analysis technique to gauge the effect of therapies such as Song of Life. They provide a comparison with other methods in the study using smart technologies. The ability to evaluate how well therapies work is of great value. Appropriate evaluation techniques will help to ensure that the effect of therapies is measured accurately.

Seeking cures to the various forms of diseases such as cancer is paramount. At the same time, we need to improve on the ways we care for patients fighting life-threatening diseases. By assessing the effect of therapies, we can also ensure that new therapies bridge any existing gaps.

Looking to the future

Music therapy is used in a number of healthcare setting across the globe. The increased burden on healthcare services means that explorations of clinical and non-clinical ways to assist people are greatly welcomed. It’s also important to ensure that critically ill patients are provided services beyond medical treatment.

In fact, an article in the journal Environmental Science and Public Health describes the role of hope for terminally ill patients, along with the positive impacts psychological interventions can have in such times. By understanding the effect of therapies, we can refine them to suit the needs of different patients. Further research into alternative or supplementary therapies is crucial to this aim.

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