Music Therapy & the Brain

Music Therapy & the Brain

Music Therapy is defined as the use of musical experiences to address non-music treatment goals, such as pain management and anxiety.

The field of study began in the 1950’s after the end of the Second World War. Musicians realized the therapeutic effect that music had on the soldiers they visited and it was quickly realized that this exciting new field needed development and research. The researchers didn’t have the brain scans and subsequent scientific proof in the 50’s that we have now, but they could see the positive influence music had on those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Tara McConnell is a licensed music therapist with 21 years of clinical experience. She runs the MMTS (McConnell Music Therapy Services) in Auburn California and sat down with me to share some details about this exhilarating form of therapy.

She began her career as a young musician and although she loved the effect playing her music had on people, she didn’t enjoy preforming very much. She combined her love for psychology and music and at the last minute chose music therapy as her major in college.

So just what is involved in training to be a musical therapist? Firstly, you need to be a trained musician with skills in varied instruments with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in music therapy. After completing your education, you must complete a 1,200 hour clinical internship in a clinical or medical setting. Finally, there is a certification board exam and to keep your certification current you are required to complete 100 continuing education units (CEU) every 5 years.

The work of music therapy in the neonatal intensive care units (NICU) with preemies is remarkable. Therapists have been using live music near the premature babies and have found it to decrease heart rate and increase their oxygen intake. Their suck response was faster and their stays in the NICU were shorter, all because of live music!

With adults, there is a lot of work being done to help with pain management and decrease the need for pain medications. It also addresses mental health issues, helping with anxiety and depression.

The Center for Biomedical Research in Music at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, is offering advanced education for music therapists to become neurologic music therapists. Their focus is on stroke patients, Parkinson’s patients and those who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). They use Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) to help patients develop physical stability using music. The results are astounding, people who can’t talk can sing, people who can’t walk can step out of a wheeled chair and balance or even dance, and people who can only shuffle because of the damage from Parkinson’s can take full strides.

Through brain scans we have found that music will connect the damaged pieces of the brain to the healthy pieces. It can actually block pain perception as it will distract your brain from pain and stress.

Music is innate in all of us and is continuing to be further proven to enhance our lives and help us deal with stress, anxiety and even physical pain. So blast your speakers, sing and dance to a healthier you!

~ Julie “Brain Lady” Anderson


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