Music Therapy: A Novel Gift For Health & Well-being

Music therapy offers hope in sometimes hopeless situations. What exactly is music therapy? It’s is a form of psychotherapy that incorporates the power of music to promote healing and enhance quality of life.

Music therapy is a supplement to primary medical care. Music therapy comes into play when the patient (or the patient’s family) is looking for additional ways to relieve unfavorable conditions. It is a tool that can be applied to the more simple human conditions to the very complex.

Consider conditions such as dementia, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Autism, Asperger’s (a form of autism), and PTSD, to name a few. Music therapy can also give comfort to physically ill patients, and patients in the end of life stage and in need of palliative care. In addition, people turn to music therapy to assist with insomnia, stress, depression, anxiety, and for relaxation.

It’s not just about listening to your favorite songs; music therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs.

Licensed professionals, known as music therapists, are trained in tailoring the experience to help you manage stress, express feelings, and even improve communication.

A music therapist using a musical triangle while working with an elderly person with Alzheimer's.
A music therapist using a musical triangle while working with an elderly person with Alzheimer’s.

Mention of music therapy has been added to the GGS website, because I wanted visitors to know more about it. Often, family and friends seek out anything they can do for a loved one who is terminally ill or actively dying, even asking what gifts they could give them. This is a gift of comfort, and should be considered.

Jump to the music therapy for palliative-care/end of life to learn how you can make your loved one more comfortable during the dying process or when dealing with sickness.

If you’re interested in the many benefits of music therapy, read on. I encourage you to open your mind, and consider this gift to a friend or family member who is struggling.

Fundamentals of music therapy

Music therapy enriches your life through various structured techniques employing the innate qualities of music. It’s designed to promote healing and enhance your overall well-being.

Defining music therapy

Music therapy is a research-supported method where credentialed professionals leverage music’s therapeutic attributes to address your physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs. It strategically uses interventions, like creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement, you can strengthen abilities that transfer into other areas of your life. Therapists use music to help you improve health in a therapeutic context.

Woman receiving music therapy.
A young woman receiving music therapy. Credit: Norton Gusky

Benefits of music therapy

Engaging in music therapy comes with a multitude of benefits. Here are some of the key ones you might experience:

  • Emotional: Music therapy can aid in expressing feelings, improving mood, and reducing anxiety.
  • Physical: It often assists with pain management and physical rehabilitation.
  • Cognitive: Therapy may include elements designed to bolster attention skills and cognitive function.
  • Social: Group sessions can facilitate better interpersonal relationships and communication skills.

The overarching goal of music therapy is to tap into the connective power of music to foster your healing and growth. Whether through active music therapy or more receptive methods, your music therapy journey is individualized to reflect your personal goals and objectives.

A dance class of girls with Down Syndrome enjoy the benefits of music therapy.
A dance class of girls with Down Syndrome enjoy the benefits of music therapy.

Can I do music therapy on my own at home?

Licensed music therapists spend years in training, studying the cognitive benefits of music therapy. In addition, they learn appropriate application use and when to apply it for specific situations.

Take for example, a licensed music therapist will treat a person with a brain injury differently from a person with PTSD. Great care needs to be giving to not over-stimulate someone with a brain injury.

With that said, music for stress relief and relaxation is within everyone’s reach. For example, Ann from Seven Ponds has compiled a playlist called “Songs for the Dying” that can provide comfort in this end of life time.

Music therapy across the lifespan

Music therapy offers substantial benefits for individuals at any age, from early childhood to elderly years, tailored to aid development, well-being, and quality of life.

Music therapy for children

For children, music therapy often focuses on promoting developmental milestones, including cognitive, emotional, and motor skills. You’ll find that sessions are designed to create a playful and nurturing environment where kids can explore sound, rhythm, and melody. Children with autism may benefit significantly from music therapy, which encourages communication and self-expression.

Teenage girl in hospital, listening to music.
Teenage girl in hospital, listening to music.

Adolescent music therapy

During the teenage years, music therapy can support the quest for identity and independence while also dealing with the unique challenges of adolescence. When you participate in these sessions, you may experience group or individual activities meant to facilitate social skills and emotional growth. Especially for teenagers dealing with mental health issues, music therapy can be a non-threatening medium for expression and coping.

Adult and elderly music therapy

Music therapy for adults and the elderly is often oriented toward rehabilitative or palliative care. For adults, especially those with serious illnesses, music therapy is a resource that can improve mood, diminish pain, and enhance communication. If you’ve suffered from a traumatic brain injury, engaging in music therapy can help improve motor skills and emotional well-being.

In the context of geriatric care, music therapy adapts to address age-related issues. If you’re an older adult, you might find sessions help with memory recall, thereby elevating cognitive functioning, or provide a sense of connection and reduced feelings of loneliness. For seniors, including those with dementia, music therapy can be particularly therapeutic, acting as a tool to maintain or increase levels of physical, mental, and emotional functioning.

Therapeutic applications in health and disability

Music therapy offers a unique approach to health by addressing physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. It can play a pivotal role in managing symptoms and enhancing the quality of life for people with health conditions and disabilities.

Music therapy for specific conditions

  • Dementia: Music therapy can stimulate cognitive function and reduce symptoms of dementia. It engages memory and can provide emotional comfort.
  • Autism: Tailored music therapy sessions can enhance communication and social skills in individuals with autism.
  • Down Syndrome: It can improve motor skills and expressive abilities in those with Down syndrome.
  • Chronic Pain: Music therapy may play a role in pain management by alleviating perception of pain, reducing stress, and providing emotional release.

Music therapy and mental health

  • PTSD: For people coping with PTSD, it can serve as a form of expression, enabling them to articulate feelings non-verbally, potentially reducing anxiety and depression.
  • Anxiety: Engaging in music therapy is linked to reductions in heart rate, blood pressure, and feelings of anxiety.
  • Depression: Music therapy interventions can provide a sense of relief and hope by elevating mood and motivation.
A military veteran playing a guitar with family nearby.
A military veteran playing a guitar with family nearby.

Music and physical rehabilitation

  • Migraine: Some individuals may find relief from migraine pain through music therapy by reducing stress triggers.
  • Brain Injury: It helps rehabilitate speech and motor function, as well as improve cognitive skills in brain injury patients.
  • For Disabilities: Music therapy can enhance the quality of life for those with various disabilities, aiding in expression and interaction.

Incorporating music therapy into your health and rehabilitation strategies may offer significant benefits to cope with a variety of mental and physical challenges.

Music therapy in palliative and end-of-life care

Music therapy has become a valuable component in palliative and end-of-life care, offering comfort and support to those facing life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones. It can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and provide a sense of peace during challenging times.

A terminally-ill cancer patient embraced by her sister.
A terminally-ill cancer patient embraced by her sister.

Hospice music therapy

Hospice music therapy incorporates personalized music experiences to enhance quality of life for patients in hospice care. Songs carefully chosen or composed can resonate with a patient’s own life story, often reconnecting them to cherished memories and emotions. For instance, board-certified music therapists might use harp music for the dying, known for its soothing tones and gentle harmonies that can bring peace to both patients and their families.

Some hospice music therapy songs are specifically tailored to address the emotional needs of individuals, potentially aiding in the processing of grief. This therapeutic use of music helps you find solace in the journey through end-of-life care.

Music for the dying

Music therapy in the case of terminally ill is a perfect use-case example. Consider arranging for a musician who is willing to pay a visit to your dying friend or family member. This unique gift is a comforting activity that you can provide.

Engaging with music therapy for dying patients aims to ease the transition at the end of life. It’s not just about listening; therapists may encourage patients to sing along, play simple instruments, or simply enjoy the presence of harmonious sounds. Best music for the dying is that which resonates personally with the patient, whether it be classical masterpieces, spiritual hymns, or even the familiar tunes of a favorite artist.

Family surrounds a man who is near death.
Even when the dying seem unconsious, they can still hear. Playing comforting music during the dying stages is a way to relax and reduce anxiety for loved ones.

Therapists often utilize music for dying people to facilitate a sense of well-being, with pieces chosen to reflect an individual’s preferences and needs. The selection might include tranquil, instrumental pieces like harp music, or possibly songs with lyrics that carry a significant meaning for the patient. Through these carefully chosen melodies and rhythms, you can experience an enhanced sense of comfort and a peaceful state of mind.

Instruments in music therapy that give comfort

In music therapy, instruments are more than just tools; they’re extensions of your expressive capabilities. For example, harp music therapy utilizes the soothing tones of the harp to calm and focus your mind, often seen in hospice or palliative care settings. Similarly, guitar music therapy can help you engage in the experience with familiar sounds that can encourage participation and even memory recall.

  • Music Speech Therapy: This technique often includes singing to improve your speech clarity and rhythm through melody.
  • Music Therapy Baby: Lullabies and gentle rhythms are used to soothe infants, aiding in sleep and sensory development.
A therapist works with an elderly person with dementia through music.
A therapist works with an elderly person with dementia through music.

Exploring different music therapy examples through blogs may offer insight into the many ways music is used as a therapeutic tool. Music therapy blogs often showcase personal stories, techniques, and the latest research, providing a resource for understanding the practical application of music therapy.

Harp therapy, a soothing gift for ill or dying patients

Harp therapy is the playing of a stringed harp. The sounds, tones, and vibrations are very soothing. When my father was in intensive care, a harpist would make regular visits to the unit. Her harp was the full floor harp. It was very mesmerizing and invoked a feeling of peace.

As the harpist comments in the video above, the patient is already anxious about being in the hospital and perhaps struggling breathing. He explains that if you’re anxious or have a problem breathing, it can feed on itself and get even worse.

From the harpist: “If you can interrupt the cycle of pain and anxiety, and give the patient a bit of peace it [the music therapy] really helps.”

The harps that the musicians are playing in the video are portable. Consider hiring them for a visit to your dying friend or loved one! Inquire locally, from the nursing home, or at the hospital for leads on harp therapy muscians.

Singing bowl therapy

Singing bowls make beautiful and relaxing sounds. Singing bowl therapy falls under the umbrella of sound therapy. It is ancient practice (attributed to Tibet) that has become a popular complementary treatment for many physiological and mental health conditions.

Tibetan Singing Bowl
Tibetan Singing Bowl Therapy.

According to Healthline, singing bowl therapy can help:

  • lessen chronic pain
  • improve sleep
  • reduce anger
  • improve blood pressure
  • improve respiratory rate
  • reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • improve symptoms of some neurological disorders such as fibromyalgia and Parkinson’s disease

The Bells of Bliss, a singing bowl and sound healing blog, states “The beautiful complex simplicity of the singing bowl’s voice helps to achieve deep relaxation, reduces stress, anxiety and physical pain.” Guy Beider tells a touching story of healing that he credits to the use of singing bowls in his life.

Healthline suggests that there is a deep brain connection when listening to and feeling the Tibeten singing bowl session. “The sound of the singing bowls may produce binaural beats, encouraging brain waves that help you feel relaxed, such as beta waves or trance-like theta waves.”

Although singing bowls, and singing bowls combined with nature sounds are popular videos on YouTube, they do not have the same affect as experiencing the tones in person. The vibrations of the bowls have a direct affect on the bodies of the persons in the room.

It is believed in the healing communities that the frequency of each note of a singing bowl encourages physical, mental, and spiritual health. This idea is the same as the Solfeggio frequency experienced with Gregorian chants. -The Ohm Store However, it lacks scientific evidence to be true.

Ten Thousand Villages goes as far to say that our body is 60% water, and that a singing bowl can affect the water in our bodies. Actually, that isn’t a far-off statement. That makes me think of the famous Jurassic Park scene where the thud of the T-Rex’s steps made the water in the cups shake.

Singing bowls are comprised of several different sizes of bowls for different tones. A single singing bowl is perfect to lead in and out of meditation, or can be used as an announcement tool. The site Best Singing Bowls explains that musicians can quickly increase the quantity of bowls to obtain a greater range of tonal sounds.

This quantity of singing bowls obviously has to be limited in the room of a patient dying. Check with hospital resources to obtain the services of a singing bowl musician for a private session for a loved one. I’ve been able to enjoy the relaxing tones of singing bowls at my local hospital. They arrange singing bowl presentations in the public main floor area for hospital guests as part of their holistic programs.

Singing, another tool to provide comfort

Ann Grace MacMullan from Seven Ponds offers several ideas for music therapy for the dying, including having singers come into the dying person’s room.

A small group of three to four members will surround the bedside and sing in hushed, lullaby voices. Their songs contain simple lyrics that focus on love and release.

If you can’t arrange for a small 3-person or 4 person choir to come to the room, Ann says use a DIY approach: make your own playlist.  She started an eclectic Spotify playlist: “Songs for The Dying.” The genre include Gregorian chants and the voice of Benedictine nuns. Ann says “When words fail you as they did me, perhaps a song could be comforting to all.”

Controversies and critiques of music therapy

While music therapy offers various benefits, it also presents certain challenges and considerations that you, as professionals or enthusiasts, must navigate.

Music therapy isn’t without its controversies and critiques. There is skepticism surrounding the efficacy of music therapy for coma patients, where the extent of responsiveness and long-term benefits might be questioned. Similarly, discussions about the cons of music therapy often highlight its potential overstimulation risks, especially for individuals with certain neurological conditions.

In the domain of serious illnesses, like cancer, music therapy is often utilized to alleviate cancer pain. However, you must approach this with a recognition of the therapy’s limitations and not overstate its benefits, as it is complementary and not a replacement for medical treatment. The constructive criticism and ongoing music therapy controversy serve as a reminder to continually evaluate and improve practices within the field.

The gift wrap up

As an advocate for your loved one, music therapy is a possible tool that can help them. Music in all of its forms is a gift that simulates the senses. Whether you seek out the services of a licensed therapist, or make your own playlist for a sick friend or family member, it’s an exceptional way to show you care about their well-being.

Older woman with headphones listening to music.
This nursing home resident enjoys relaxing music to bring her joy.
Renee Cavvy
Renee Cavvy

Renee brings over 30 years of gift giving experience to holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, workplace and faith events. Every life moment is cause for celebration or those times in life when we need the "the gift of support". Her mission: Let's all be better in appreciating one another, put an end to meaningless gifts that clutter our lives, and give from a place of love and kindness. This midwest mom (and grandma) offers novel and creative ideas to do gift giving better!