The therapeutic benefits of music have been known and harnessed since ancient times. However, music therapy in modern times dates back to the World Wars when music was used in hospitals in the rehabilitation and recovery of soldiers who had suffered physical or emotional trauma. The University of Kansas was the first University in the United States to offer a degree program in music therapy in 1944.
Early exponents of music therapy in the 1950′s to 1970′s included the French cellist Juliet Alvin and Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins. The Nordoff-Robbins approach is still used in many countries around the world including the USA, UK, Australia, Germany and South Africa.
So, how does music therapy work?
Music is universal and connects across language barriers. Most people can respond to music in some way regardless of illness or disability.
Music has an inherent ability to generate an emotional response in the listener. It stimulates a relaxation response which can therefore lead to physiological changes in the body. Music is known to reduce stress thereby producing related benefits such as lower blood pressure, improved respiration, reduced heart rate, better cardiac performance and reduced tension in muscles.
Music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain and this stimulation has been shown to help in development of language and speech functions. It promotes socialization and development of communication, self expression and motor skills. Children and adults with autism spectrum disorder have been found to respond very positively to music and many of them display high levels of musical skill.
Music encourages verbal as well as non verbal communication and promotes social interaction and relatedness. It’s a valuable outlet for self expression and creativity. It has also been successfully used in pain management by providing a distraction from the painful stimulus as well as a means of relaxation and stress alleviation.