Are you having trouble loading this page? Click here to view a text-only version.

Stories

“Sound Health,” Part 3

Music therapy

Listening to and making music on your own can bring health benefits. But some people may also benefit from the help of a board-certified music therapist. Music therapists are trained in how to use music to meet the mental, social, and physical needs of people with different health conditions.

“Music therapy can take many forms that go beyond listening to music,” explains Dr. Sheri Robb, a music therapist and behavioral intervention researcher at Indiana University.

Music therapists can use certain parts of music, like the rhythm or melody, to help people regain abilities they’ve lost from a brain injury or developmental disability. For example, a person who’s had a stroke may be able to sing words, but not speak them.

Music therapists also rely on the social qualities of music. Shared musical experiences can help a family member connect with a loved one who has dementia. Music can also be used to help young people with behavior disorders learn ways to manage their emotions.

Robb’s research focuses on developing and testing music therapy interventions for children and teens with cancer and their families. In one study, music therapists helped young people undergoing high-risk cancer treatments to write song lyrics and create music videos about what was most important to them.

“With the help of music therapists, these teenagers were able to identify their strengths and positive ways to cope, remain connected with family and friends, and improve communication during a challenging time,” Robb explains.

Music can offer many health benefits, but it may not be helpful for everyone. Traumatic injuries and brain conditions can change the way a person perceives and responds to music. Some people may find some types of music overstimulating. Others may find that certain music brings up emotional or traumatic memories.

“It’s important for healthcare providers to identify and understand when music isn’t helpful and may be harmful,” Robb says. “And this is an area where music therapists can be helpful.”

As scientists continue to learn more about music and the brain, try striking a chord for your health. Whether you’re looking to boost your mood, stay connected to others, or improve symptoms of a health condition, add a little music to your life.

“Think of music like physical fitness or what you eat,” says Northwestern University neuroscientist Dr. Nina Kraus. “To see the most health benefits, try to include music as a regular, consistent part of your life. It’s never too late to add music to your life.”

Article adapted from the National Institutes of Health January 2018 News in Health, available online at newsinhealth.nih.gov.