Music therapy - LPNI

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Music therapy

LPNI Health Topic – January 2018
Music therapy

If I hadn’t been a nurse, I could well have been a music therapist.  While I took piano lessons for several years, I never really mastered the keyboard.  However I loved singing, and was able to take singing lessons for a time, and to sing in one of the large provincial choirs in New Zealand.   I also had the opportunity to direct the church choir in two of the congregations where I was a member.  

Music has powerful therapeutic qualities.  It can facilitate neurological and emotional change in people, and reach people who cannot otherwise communicate.  It can also help to promote social interaction, as I saw in the members of the choirs I was part of.

One person whom music therapy helped was Barry.  Barry had been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia.  For years, his communication had been minimal and disjointed.  He would start a sentence but couldn’t finish it, and his wife, Leonie, had become used to his silence and his spatial disorientation.  As his communication skills and ability to concentrate went into decline, he and his wife made the decision to enter into aged care.  The place they chose had an activities officer who managed a music therapy program that Barry joined.   For years music had been an important part of Barry’s life.  It had given him a real ‘lift’ whenever he was feeling down.

One day as he was listening to the familiar sound of some of his favourite classics at the therapy session, his eyes opened with clarity for the first time in years.  He began to tap his feet to the rhythm of the music … and he began to speak for the first time in months.  

Music therapists primarily help clients improve their health in several areas, such as cognitive functioning, motor skills, emotional development, social skills, and quality of life.  They use both active and passive music experiences such as free improvisation, song, dance, listening to and discussing music, to achieve treatment goals.  

Music therapy comes in two different forms: active and receptive.  In active therapy, the therapist and patient actively participate in creating music with instruments, their voice, or other objects.  This allows for the patient to be creative and expressive through the music.  Receptive therapy takes place in a more relaxed setting where the therapist plays or makes music to the patient who is free to draw, listen or meditate.  In Barry’s case, recorded music was played to him through headphones.  Usually the therapist determines the method unless specifically requested by the patient.

The value of music as an effective tool for therapists has been established through extensive research.  It is beneficial for any individual, both physically and mentally, through improved heart rate, reduced anxiety, stimulation of the brain, and improved learning.  Music therapists use their techniques to help their patients in many areas, ranging from stress relief before and after surgery, to neuropathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease.  One study found that children who listened to music while having an IV inserted into their arms showed less distress and felt less pain than the children who didn’t listen to music while having an IV inserted.

Referrals to music therapy services may be made by other health-care professionals, but clients can also choose to pursue therapy services without a referral.

Lynette T Wiebusch  RN (Ret)
Paradise, South Australia

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