Music Therapy: The Healing Power Of Music
by John McIntosh
We’ve long known that music can soothe the savage beast, but we now know that it also helps heal the ravaged body. When people who are ill are surrounded by the healing arts such as music—as well as painting, architecture and theater—they feel less pain and recover more quickly.
Anecdotal evidence from doctors and patients about these benefits is nothing new, but recently the palliative effects of exposure to art during recovery have been carefully studied. As a result, more and more medical schools and hospitals consider engagement with art to be an essential component of proper patient care. In fact, according to a survey by the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, more than 2,500 hospitals invest in arts programming. Of these, 95 percent use the arts to serve their patients, 79 percent use the arts to help create a healing environment, 79 percent employ arts coordinators, and 50 percent partner with community arts agencies.
“There’s very good evidence that engaging patients in art and music is one way to make the burden of illness and periods of care more tolerable,” says Harry Jacobson, M.D., a nephrologist and vice chancellor for health affairs at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which brings many forms of art to patients’ bedsides.
Neurologist Mark Jude Tramo, M.D., Ph.D., director of Harvard’s Institute for Music and Brain Science in Boston and a faculty member of the university’s Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative, explains: “We believe music can cause neurochemical changes in specific parts of the brain that are related to the body’s feel-good systems—for example, in pain-modulating neurotransmitters. In addition, music’s auditory stimulation of the brain may cause cells to release endorphins, which suppress pain, and immunoglobulins, which help fight disease.”
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland report that patients with abdominal surgery experience greater pain relief when they are given a dose of music along with pain relievers. And Cleveland Clinic researchers write in the Journal of Advanced Nursing that long-term pain sufferers (including people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis) experience significant pain relief from listening to music of their own choice one hour every day for a week. People in the music-listening groups also report 19 to 25 percent less depression compared to the control group. “Our results show that listening to music has a significant effect on reducing pain, depression and disability, and on increasing feelings of power,” says lead researcher Sandra Siedlecki.
Case in Point
Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville leads the pack when it comes to integrating the healing arts into the patient-care environment. Donna Glassford, director of Cultural Enrichment there, brings the arts into the complex’s four hospitals. She oversees the Musicians in Residence program and is working with Musicians on Call, a nonprofit organization that trains guides to take musicians through hospitals. Together they will expand the Vanderbilt program: “They are going to help us bring more and different types of music into the hospitals and help us to tap into Nashville’s music-rich community,” Glassford says.
She currently employs harpist Betty Ashton Andrews, who performs in the lobby of the adult hospital three days a week. “It brings a calm to any environment,” says Glassford. “For example, she plays in the cancer center lobby, where people wait for chemo. This allays some of the tension. In the neonatal ward, the music soothes infants and lowers their blood pressure. “There’s also a program called Room Service,” she adds. “We provide bedside concerts in a variety of styles for patients who want them.”
When it comes to healing, music may be just what the doctor ordered.
Writer: John Mcintosh
©REMEDY, Summer 2007
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