Musicians and fans know the power music plays in one's life. An art form that speaks to soul, music has the ability to connect with people in ways far beyond our understanding. It has the power to heal and repair.
Music therapy is one way music is being used to heal and repair. According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), the earliest known reference of music therapy was listed in a 1789 magazine titled Columbian Magazine in the article "Music Physically Considered".
In the 1800s, music therapy began to gain some footing in the medical community. Two dissertations on the topic by medical students Edwin Altee and Samuel Matthews were published. These students worked with Dr. Benjamin Rush. Rush was a huge advocate for the use of music to treat medical ailments.
The 1800s also brought the first recorded intervention and the first experiment in music therapy. Afterward, music therapy associations began to crop up in the early 1900s and while they were short-lived, the momentum had been started. In the 1940s, three people emerged as innovators in the arena. AMTA explains,
Psychiatrist and music therapist Ira Altshuler, MD promoted music therapy in Michigan for three decades. Willem van de Wall pioneered the use of music therapy in state-funded facilities and wrote the first "how to" music therapy text, Music in Institutions (1936). E. Thayer Gaston, known as the "father of music therapy," was instrumental in moving the profession forward in terms of an organizational and educational standpoint. The first music therapy college training programs were also created in the 1940s. Michigan State University established the first academic program in music therapy (1944) and other universities followed suit, including the University of Kansas, Chicago Musical College, College of the Pacific, and Alverno College.
Flash forward to today and AMTA supports well over 5,000 music therapists, publishes two research journals and is an advocate for music therapy on the state and federal levels. It works to advance public knowledge of the benefits of music therapy and to increase access to quality music therapy services in a rapidly changing world.
I had the opportunity to interview three music therapists on the specialties they practice in, what they have seen in their experience and what music can do to heal the mind and body. My first interview was with Bonnie Barczak, Music Therapy Director at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.
J: How and why did you get into music therapy?
B: My mother was going through her first open heart surgery at the time. When she was coming out of anesthesia, she was incredibly loopy and she didn't know where she was. She knew she hurt. She heard gurgling. In her mind, she put that all together and wherever she was it was flooding. She knew she couldn't do anything about it and the look of terror on her face was really awful. And, I hated to see her go through that.
At that point, I thought there has to be a better way that we could help patients before and after surgery. I devised a protocol to meet with the patient before surgery to help facilitate relaxation. A person responds better to anesthesia and needs less anesthesia when they are relaxed. When they're not relaxed, the stress hormones work against anesthesia, which means a patient needs more and there are more side effects.
J: Music therapy has been utilized for quite some time as an aid in healing, what can you tell me about it from a surgical and medical standpoint?
B: Music Therapy started in post WWII in hospitals. Professional musicians would go and play music for patients. What we found was the professional musicians were not trained to deal with situations that came up. They knew nothing about music being contraindicated for patients. They didn't know how to deal with strong emotional reactions. Now, what they were doing was great, but everyone agreed that before they continued doing things, they should get some training.
During my internship, which was at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill, I worked hospital wide. But, my real interest was in cardiac care.
I would meet with the patient. I would assess for a patient preference of music, which is really important. I would do live music in the pre-op session and since I wasn't allowed in the post-op session, I would put together a compilation of music. The nurses would put the music compilation on in post-op. It was a way of grounding the patient. They would feel relaxed as they were coming out of anesthesia. The family would comment to me how effective the music was at calming their family member and smiling. It was a very different response than what my mother had and it was very gratifying.
J: What have been your experiences with using music therapy to aid in the healing process with patients in regards to the receptiveness of the medical community? For example, I live up by Green Bay and have never heard of this being offered at the hospital.
B: It is more receptive in other states. If you were to Google some of the biggest hospitals around Chicago and the suburbs it's there. Many of my colleagues in Illinois do hospital work. I wouldn't say it's commonplace, but it's in many. Wisconsin is another animal and I'm not sure why. In our glory days, we had four music therapy schools and now we only have one. Milwaukee is the home of the second oldest collegiate <music therapy> program in the world. Milwaukee has been a music therapy town for over sixty years.
I personally have overseen programs at Columbia St.Mary's.We did a project in the oncology unit. At Froedert's Hospital, we were in their palliative care unit. St. Luke's, here in Milwaukee, we have worked in their cancer care center doing outpatient therapy.
The other issue is when we're in an economic downturn, things get cut. If you were a hospital administrator and you had to make the choice to keep a surgical nurse or a music therapist, well, you know what the choice would be.
J: It's interesting with the arts. The arts, in general, are usually the first to get cut.
B: You are absolutely right. It's sad, but we have to live within that reality.
J: Many people think music therapy is just playing music to patients, but it's much more than that. Can you explain the complexities of this therapy a little more?
B: Music therapy is almost a double major in college. You have music training, which includes all your music history, theory, and performance on instrument. You learn the genres of music and how to improvise. You have to be a very competent musician to be a music therapist because otherwise they will just write you off. Now, let's say I'm a really good musician, but I have lousy people skills. How good of a therapist am I going to be?
Our training is as a full-fledged musician. We are not psychologists, nor do we pretend to be, but we do have some training in group dynamics and working with patients on an emotional level. There is a line where our standards of practice says we must refer.
Let's go back to our WWII musicians. What our WWII musicians didn't really expect to encounter was the high emotional response from the patients. The therapy part of music therapy is working with the patients to resolve those issues. It cannot be a, "I have ten minutes on your wing. Boom, here's the fix-all." There is no such thing. We want to be able to have continuity of care. And, that's another thing the WWII musicians didn't have. They didn't have the ability to go back and even if they did, they didn't have the training. They didn't understand those reactions.
We need to be prepared for all kinds of emotional responses. We don't know what will trigger a non-musical association. And, that's big. These non-musical associations are the feelings and memories attached to the music. We don't know what our clients bring, in non-musical association. We can't predict that.
An example would be the movie "Sleeping with the Enemy". Her psychotic husband always put on Berlioz symphonies when he beat her. Julia Robert's character hates those symphonies. How would I know that if I haven't assessed the client? Assessment is really important. And, I still may not know that because...a) they may have repressed it or b) chosen not to share that information.
So, we need to be prepared for those reactions. We need to work the process of someone having to deal with those memories and those strong reactions.
J:One of the things that I have always felt about music is that it is one of the arts that can go in and really grab a hold of the soul. I don't know what that is, but I know that's what it does. And, it makes you feel almost any emotion you want to feel.
B: Music is processed halologically throughout the entire brain. When they have done functional MRIs while a person is looking at music or listening to music the brain is lit up. It is different between musicians and non-musicians, by the way.
But if I'm in an MRI and I'm listening to a choral piece I know really well and love, my temporal lobe, where hearing functions live will be lit up, because I'm processing auditory stimulation.
Within the auditory cortex and other parts of the brain are my memory centers. I remember the soprano part and I'm singing along in my head, so, the memory parts are engaged. My occipital lobe, which is my vision center, is seeing the music score in my head.
My frontal lobe is going, because I'm making judgments..."Do I like my singing?"..."Do I like this recording?"..."Is this a good recording?" And, then we have the limbic system, which is the emotional center of the brain and it's lighting up, because I love this piece. It's making me feel good.
Then there is the motor cortex. Chances are, I am actually conducting the piece. They don't like that in the MRI, but I'm having a motoric response to the music. So, right now, you're talking about almost 98% of the brain working.
And this is why music is so powerful. This is why we have such strong reactions and attachments to music.
Music has an innate quality that can assist us in the healing process from surgery. It can make us relax beforehand and soothe us afterwards. This art form is more than notes on a page or jingles on the radio. It is an art that can aid in the healing process and create a world in which the patient is stress free.
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