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Music Therapy

Music has been used in medicine for thousands of years. But music therapy emerged as a formal means of care in the United States in the 1940s, after doctors learned that music helped restore World War II soldiers suffering from shell shock. There currently are more than 5,000 trained music therapists working with patients in pain management centers, hospitals, clinics, senior centers, rehabilitation facilities, and drug and alcohol programs across the country.

Music Therapy in Pain Management: How It Works

Music therapy works in chronic pain management by providing sensory stimulation that evokes a response in the patient. Research has found that music used as a clinical intervention can help patients by:

  • Reducing the amount of pain   they perceive

  • Promoting relaxation, rhythmic breathing, and rest

  • Alleviating anxiety and stress

  • Giving their mood a positive boost

In chronic pain management, therapists often use music therapy as a means of conditioning the patient to relax and release pain and stress. Soothing music is paired with relaxation techniques, and eventually the patient learns to relax automatically when listening to the music.


Music Therapy for Chronic Pain


Patients undergoing music therapy for chronic pain management have been found to:

  • Require less pain medication

  • Have significant improvements in their respiration, blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle relaxation

  • Enjoy more peace of mind and better quality of life

Music therapists can design musical interventions for people in chronic pain management based on their specific likes and needs. The therapy might include:

  • Making music

  • Listening to music

  • Singing along to songs

  • Writing songs

  • Discussing music and lyrics

  • Using music to form images in the mind

  • Meditating with music in the background

Music therapy is very versatile. It can be done one-on-one or in group therapy sessions, and at home, in a medical facility, or other setting. The chronic pain patient doesn't need to be skilled or gifted in music to gain benefits from the therapy.

Finding Music Therapy Programs

Music therapists are accredited health care professionals. More than 70 colleges and universities offer music therapy degree programs approved by the American Music Therapy Association.

Music therapists hold a bachelor's degree or higher and must complete 1,200 hours of clinical training and pass a national board certification exam before they are allowed to practice. They are trained in psychology, counseling, physiology, and anatomy. They also become proficient in four instruments — piano, guitar, voice, and a fourth instrument of their choice.

Music therapy is offered at many cancer and pain management centers. For example, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center offers individual, family, or group music therapy sessions that last from 45 minutes to an hour. The center also makes available about 50 CDs of healing music that patients can borrow. Other musical selections are available for download to your MP3 player.

To find an accredited music therapist or music therapy program near you, contact the American Music Therapy Association at (301) 589-3300, or visit their Web site.

Reprint: 2010

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