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Music: for entertainment and therapy

Music is mentally and physically healing

Sarai Nissan – The Sentry

When people listen to music, it’s likely that they aren’t listening to music to have a healing experience; however music has been found to be effective for many different types of patients. According to the Music Therapy Association of Ontario, music therapy is a useful tool in the healing process; it promotes, maintains, and restores mental health, as well as the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of a person.

Music therapy didn’t start to gain traction in the United States until the 20th century after World War II. The practice started when musicians would go to veteran hospitals around the country to play for patients. Once they began playing music for veteran patients, doctors noticed positive changes in them; they saw how music was beginning to boost the morale of the injured and mentally ill. This motivated doctors to keep inviting musicians to play at these hospitals.  Once doctors were able to see the many different effects music had on their patients, they declared a special need for this type of training. There needed to be an appropriate method for how music could be therapeutic to someone. This sparked the creation of the music therapy major at universities.

Music therapy works well for many people since the human brain was found to respond positively to rhythm. When people listen to music, sound travels through the auditory nerves to the spinal cord, which allows muscles to move to the song’s rhythm. In Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophilia, he shares a story of a woman who suffered a complex hip fracture that was followed by a surgery that left her leg paralyzed. The woman told Sacks that her leg had only moved once since her injury, and it moved when she was at a Christmas concert while an Irish jig played. When Sacks heard this, it was enough to indicate to him that music could be an activator to whatever was going on in her nervous system. The brain was reacting with her sensorimotor system, being activated by both sensory and motor functions.

When Sacks began to work with this woman using music therapy, he played dance tunes—mostly Irish jig songs—and during this process they began to see her leg respond to the music. When the process began, her leg had already slowly started the process of muscular degeneration because there had not been movement in her leg for so long. But the woman was eventually able to move and walk with her leg again after the time spent with Sacks. While this process took several months, it gave Sacks a chance to see how the body and the brain responded to music. 

Not only can music help people access mobility in their limbs again, but it has been proven that music can help patients with Alzheimer’s. By pairing music with everyday activities, patients are able to develop a rhythm that can help them recall the memory of the activity, allowing their cognitive ability to improve over time.

Music therapy has not only been proven to work, but CU Denver’s own Anschutz Medical Campus opened up a program called the Music and Medicine Initiative (MAMI). The mission of the MAMI program is to help give students, faculty, staff, patients, and community members a resource for understanding and using music as a source of healing, outreach, education, and research. 

Music is a form of art that many people still think of as only a form of entertainment. Music is so much more than entertainment—it can be medicine for the brain and the body. Because of the many different affects that music can have on people, it’s clear why music therapy is starting to become more widely known for its affects on the body and brain.  Enjoying music is a small part of everyday life, and it’s no wonder why people respond to music therapeutically. Whether  music is being used to sit back and de-stress or for medical benefit, it’s no secret that music is a powerful tool. People go through their everyday lives not knowing just how powerful music can be.

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