The Art of Healing
The link between music and healing has been
known and recorded across cultures and through the centuries,
but it is only over the last fifty years that music therapy
has developed as a profession. In 1999 music therapy, along
with art and drama therapy, received official recognition from
the state regulatory body, the Health Professions Council, putting
the arts therapies on an equal footing with other professions
allied to medicine, such as physiotherapy.
Shantha P. Gunasekera
all societies and cultures, music is an integral part of public
and private life, and is also the basis of ritual, whether social,
spiritual or ceremonial. Music adds another dimension to occasions
of national importance or personal significance, and supports
or transcends the spoken word in worship, celebration and mourning.
Few people would deny the important part music has played in
their lives from infancy to old age, and that it is a powerful
medium for communication. It is important, however, not to view
music simply as a vehicle for the emotions, but also as a complex
creation of the intellect.
Few people would deny the important part music has played in
music therapist has the opportunity to use not only the social,
spiritual and emotional aspects of music, but also its inherent
form, structure, and logic, thus linking the artistic and the
scientific, the intuitive and the intellectual. Powerful tools
music therapist is working on the premise that inborn in every
human being is the capacity to respond to the elements of music,
and that this innate responsiveness remains intact and accessible
despite damage or trauma to other organs.
have shown that in the womb before birth, the foetus reacts
to rhythm and pitch, while a new-born baby can already distinguish
the tone of its mother's voice, as well as being calmed or aroused
by different rhythmic sounds or movements.
have observed that the baby's earliest attempts to 'talk' to
the mother are in many ways closer to a musical dialogue than
to speech. The innate need or drive within us to communicate,
even at this early pre-verbal level, is used and developed by
music therapists as part of their clinical techniques.
accepted that music provides a universal language, or means
of communication, the question may be raised as to how music
therapy differs from other forms of musical activity. The uplifting
experience of singing in a choir, the satisfaction of performing
with fellow musicians, the enjoyment of listening to music,
live or recorded, or the inspiration given by a gifted teacher,
are all therapeutic, since they promote feelings of well-being
and enhance the quality of life. However, music therapy practised
as a profession has certain features which separate it from
more general musical experiences. Central to this is the relationship
which is built up between therapist and client or patient (either
word is use, depending on the work-place). This relationship
is based on mutual trust and acceptance, and is explored within
a setting offering regularity, consistency of the time and place
of sessions and confidentiality. The therapist will also be
prepared to work with difficult or negative emotions which may
be brought up through the therapy.
pre-composed and recorded music may be use, the principle medium
of the therapeutic relationship is clinical improvisation. This
allows the therapist to be the listener, the reflector, the
enabler and the supporter of the client, with the flexibility
to move to new musical areas as the therapy demands. Therapist
and client may speak, either about the music or feelings evoked
during the session, but the music will retain its position at
the heart of the therapy.
and how does music therapy take place?
which may be one to one or in small groups, take place in medical
and psychiatric hospitals, in special schools, nurseries and
mainstream schools, in prisons and in residential homes, including
hospices and those for older adults with Alzheimer's disease
or other mental health problems. They can also be found in clinics
and units for drug users and young offenders, for people with
cancer, HIV or AIDS, and for children or young people with anorexia
or sho have been abused.
therapist will use his or her own instrument, and there will
be a range of tuned and untuned percussion and ethnic instruments
for both the client and therapist to play.
do people benefit from music therapy?
do not have to be musical or musically skilful to benefit from
music therapy and for everyone the experience of therapy will
be different. Unlike music teaching, there will not be clearly
defined goals, tragets or a skills-based curriculum. The aims
of the treatment will not be specifically musical, but will
be in areas such as developing communication, confidence concentration,
self-expression or creativity, as we can see in the following
A withdrawn and remote autistic boy reaches out to play the
piano with the music therapist, and so takes the first step
out of his silent, isolated world. As the sessions progress
week by week, shared pleasure in the musical experience leads
into other forms of communication, improved eye contact, singing
and the beginnings of speech.
A suicidal teenager expresses her rage and despair through chaotic
outbursts of drumming, and is supported by the therapist at
the piano with strongly dissonant music. As trust develops Stacey
is able to allow other feelings to emerge, of fear and insecurity,
and these, too, can be expressed in the music.
Michael is terminally ill with cancer and uses his music therapy
sessions to get in touch with the importance of music, both
in his life and as his death approaches. At this point, words
are no longer enough, and the music takes over.
Bindesh, who speaks very little English, is taken into a psychiatric
hospital for assessment, after being found confused and disorientated,
wandering in the street. A music therapy group on his ward gives
him the opportunity to communicate in a language that everyone
seems to understand.
An elderly woman, Doris, became depressed following the deaths
of both her mother and her husband within a short space of time.
She was admitted to hospital when it seemed she had lost the
will to live. Her music therapy sessions became a place where
she could reminisce about her past life through singing song
with the therapist and this brought her some solace and hope.
therapy is still a young profession, and there is a long way
to go before it is available to all who could benefit from it.
Of vital importance is research to demonstrate the effectiveness
of music as a means of healing, so that it can take its place
alongside other medical and psychological forms of treatment.
in every human being is the capacity to respond to the elements
writer is a pianist/instructor trained in the UK and Country
Coordinator for Bangladesh of the Associated Board of the Royal
Schools of Music, London