Monday, June 25, 2012

Music Therapy

Most of us by now have probably heard the news about 7-year-old Charlotte Neve who came out of a coma earlier this month in England when she heard Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” This may seem rather fantastical to some, however, the use of music as a medical treatment has been prominent since just after the Second World War. Another, equally incredible, example of music therapy being used is with Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s recovery from a gunshot wound. The congresswoman is said to have received music therapy treatments in order to assist her speech recovery with remarkable results. After a bit of digging into how music therapy works and some of its proven benefits these two cases may begin to seem less extraordinary.

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) defines music therapy as, “an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.” It uses tools such as composing, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music to aid its patients. The most common beneficiaries of music therapy are patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Autism Spectrum Disorders, brain injury, mental health disorders, and also high stress. This seems rather too good to be true, so how exactly does music therapy do all this? It has to do with how music affects the brain. No, I’m not talking about the much hyped and equally disproven “Mozart Effect,” but there are proven ways in which music affects the brain.

Have you ever spent days and weeks trying to memorize something (especially lists) only to finally give up, set it to song, and have it memorized within the hour?

This works because music helps recall memories by stimulating the hippocampus: the part of the brain responsible for long-term memory storage. Without getting too technical into the cognitive neuroscience of music  I can say that music benefits memory and language skills because it uses both left and right sides of the brain. It is also important to note that music that is familiar to the patient tends to evoke a more positive response; likewise, the degree of a patient’s affinity for the music can determine the degree of result.

What about access to music therapy in our local community? In terms of studying music therapy, there are over 70 AMTA approved college and university programs across the country. Within the top ten of these programs (and the program closest to home) is the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas which offers both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music therapy. Also, in Lincoln there are two AMTA certified music therapists (Tana Bachand and Crystal J. Sato) both serving the senior citizens of the community.

Visit the Polley Music Library for more information about music therapy.

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